Within Andhra’s Chittoor district lies a small Dalit village with an inspiring story to tell. Nearly seven years back when drought hit several parts of the state, the landless farmers were forced into extreme poverty as landowners began converting their fields into mangroves, reports The News Minute. It was then, that the women of the village decided to take matter in their own hands and began making cloth bags to sustain their livelihoods. Now they are running a full-fledged enterprise called Paalaguttapalle Bags, without any organisational support.
It was with the help of Aparna Krishnan, a former Chennai based software engineer and several other people like Arun Kombai, a brilliant designer, Lavanya Lakshmanan, Vigneshwaran Karthikeyan and Srinivas that the women began selling their bags to a wider audience and started dealing with customers overseas. The lovely customized bags and the bottle of pickles which they sell are more than mere products for their customers. For them, it is hope and love packaged all the way from Andhra and they never fail to testify its warmth on social media platforms.
The women would source the material, maintain the inventory, pack and posit the bags in old rice sacks and distribute among themselves the earnings.
Roopa, Rani, Ramila, Nirmala, Annapurna, Lakshmikantha, Anitha, Buji and Kala had embarked on a journey with all their hard work, grit and determination a few years back and it has now become a success story. They have turned their lives around in meaningful ways and there’s no looking back.
“I was a labourer and due to lack of rainfall we couldn’t find any job. So, I visited a madame in our village who gave us an idea to make bags,” says Anitha.
She was referring to Aparna who had come to live in the village about 20 years ago. A couple of women knew stitching and one even had a machine. So, they decided to stitch bags and sell them nearby. The first order of Paalaguttapalle Bags came from Aparna’s friend of nearly 100 bags. The women would source the material, maintain the inventory, pack and posit the bags in old rice sacks and distribute among themselves the earnings. At times, they would also outsource their products all on their own.
Aparna helped them with initial finances, but soon they began running the business from the savings and profits that they had began making. With no prior knowledge of any skill other than farming and rearing cattles, these women have learned screen printing, embroidery and adapted kollam patterns to expand their range of designs in no time.
The Paalaguttapalle range of bags include tote bags, grocery bags, conference bags, tiffin carry bags for children, jewellery pouches, fancy gift bags and compartment bags for carrying vegetables. They cater to the demands across UK, US and Canada. The nearest post office however is in Pakala, which is about 10 km from the village. The women have to take an arduous journey to reach the town in blistering heat. This is particularly difficult in times of drought, as each family is given only five buckets of water for their household consumption and other needs of cattle rearing.
They refer to their competition with industries as the competition between ‘the Industrial and the man-made (economics of price versus the economic of soul)‘. As industries start the price wars, small producers in the remote villages have to think of many ways to expand their business to survive in the market. These women from Paalaguttapalle have not taken help from banks as of now, and have managed to pool in resources. But they would soon approach banks for finances to buy more equipment.
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On the International Women’s Day, they were felicitated with an award by a magazine from Chennai called “Vikatan“. One of their customers write,”I vouch for the quality, these products stand out from the other products in the market because of the devotion and commitment of these women to making quality bags and keeping their customers satisfied.You can feel the love in these natural and bio degradable product. Money is crucial in their circumstances yet secondary to character and quality.”
As industries start the price wars, small producers in the remote villages have to think of many ways to expand their business to survive in the market.
Also read: Dalit Women Learn Differently: Experiences In Educational Institutions
Today, Paalaguttapalle Bags are able to make a decent living and educate their kids and provide for them. But this had not always been the case. There was a time when these women were suffering to provide for the daily meals of their children. They had sought their liberation in making bags.They speak in conferences and deal with overseas customers. These bags contain undefeated spirits of women and is an answer to our collectively created demon, plastic. Their initiative which helps both their individual lives and the environment at large, is worth appreciation.
You can follow Paalaguttapalle Bags’ page on Instagram.
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Editor’s Note: The first paragraph of this article has been edited from the original to include a citation to The News Minute.