New program makes clothes more fashionable than weapons in Dantewada and helps 749 women
PRamila Netam’s voice trembled as she recalled how her father was shot dead during the dreaded Salwa Judum which continued from 2005 to 2011 in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. A counter-insurgency movement, it aimed to counter the Naxal movement through tribal youths, but ended due to repeated allegations of gross human rights abuses.
Now in her twenties, Netam supports her family of three by working in a garment factory in Haram village, Dantewada district, South Chhattisgarh. “My family fled Abujhmar during Salwa Judum. We stayed in a relief camp for a few days and then arrived at Geedam block where some of my relatives were living. Even now, the densely forested region of Abujhmar in central India, which spans 4,000 km2, is a Maoist stronghold. At the time, it was a scene of violence.
The dropout says she enjoys sewing tops and palazzos. Although more comfortable in Kurtis, she loves trying on some of the latest clothes. “When I see other girls wearing them, there’s a strong urge to try on western clothes,” Netam says.
Dannex: Changing rural life
Clothing manufacturing is making waves in Dantewada, which has been affected by Naxal violence for several years. The district, which is part of Bastar sub-division, has a low literacy rate of 33% and limited livelihood opportunities. The traditional means of earning an income are agriculture and the collection of small forest products.
But the clothes make a fashion statement, and Haram’s garment factory, called Dannex or ‘Dantewada Next’, is a hub of feverish activity during the morning hours. Apart from Haram, three other Dannex factories have been established since last year in Katekalyan, Karli and Barsoor where rural women, mainly Adivasis, have been employed. Today, they earn between Rs 7,000 and Rs 12,000 per month.
All four units employ 749 women.
Kritesh Hirwani, principal of Livelihood College, established in 2011 for skills development, says the idea behind Dannex was started by the district administration to provide livelihood opportunities for women. The minimum age is 18 years old. This is a six-day work schedule with Sundays off.
In the middle of a conversation with Hirwani, a few male workers unload rolls of fabric onto laying tables to be cut. These come from companies based in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai. Director Kajol Banjare, who looks after the four factories, says companies send raw materials with instructions on the designs. Women make pants, palazzos, skirts, tops, salwar kameezes and kurtas. “After the rolls of fabric are cut to size, they are sewn using Juki machines. Then comes ironing and final packaging with price tags,” Banjare adds.
Although there are a few men, 200 women, all from nearby villages, work at Haram, which opened in January 2021. Working hours start at 9:30 a.m. and continue until 6 p.m. Most women usually deliver 60 pieces in one hour.
Use existing infrastructure
A Dannex consultant says all four factories are running on old infrastructure. For example, the Katekalyan unit operates on a vacant CRPF camp. So it’s a sustainable business model right from the start.
Deepak Soni, Dantewada District Collector, says, “Livelihood training programs often do not succeed without market linkages. Thus, the objective was to connect women to markets to ensure the success of the business through long-term memorandums of understanding with different companies for five years. »
The women received 45 days of training. Prabha Tumreti, a resident of Ghotpal, has been working in Haram since March last year. The girl admitted that she had no knowledge of sewing, but she was interested in two more people from her village. Banjare says that although a few women knew about sewing, they couldn’t handle professional machines that are fast and do many tasks at once.
However, not all employees are into sewing. Neetu Netam, who comes from Geedam, is committed to quality checks, says: “It’s important. If the finished garments have defects, the companies will return the products and we will have to send them back. So some of us make sure everything is perfect; no dots or buttons are missing anywhere.
Since April last year when production started till now, materials worth Rs 40 crore have been shipped. Initially, the women made 30,000 pieces, but from this month the target is over one lakh. Two top brands with which Dannex has a link are Vishudh and Tokyo Talkies and the apparel is available on the Myntra e-commerce site.
Deepak adds that the initiative would bring gender parity by recognizing the role of women in the market. “Also, they now have a say in family matters and many feel empowered.”
Standing near the window, Asmati Maurey is busy ironing and seems a little cut off from those who work at the sewing machines. A look at her is reminiscent of Alison in John Osborne’s play “Look Back in Anger”, where she mostly reruns. “I have no choice. I can’t sew because of poor eyesight. But I like the job and I’m happy to earn a decent income.
(Editing by Yoshita Rao)