Ground Report | New Delhi: Resounding the jingle of bangles; A calm-looking Babli sits on the floor of her house with a pair of tweezers holding a tiny shining piece of decorative glass in her steady hands. She carefully places it with glue on the side of an emerald green lac (resin material) bangle, attempting to achieve one of the many intricate designs that will lure her customers into buying them.
Despite the country facing pandemic, pocketed lockdowns, and shops being closed, she looks self-assured of making sales. Surprisingly unworried unlike many other commodity sellers during the pandemic, she goes on to work rhythmically on each of the bangles placed in front of her.
Resounding the jingle of bangles
Two years ago, Babli who lives in the historic district of Jind in the state of Haryana in India, was in search of a livelihood source along with four of her friends, Soma, Sarita, Anita, and Kavita; like many other women in her village who want to supplement their family income. That is when they learned about a state government initiative called Haryana State Rural Livelihood Mission.
With support from the Mission, they formed the Sanjeevani Bangle cluster. The question was what kind of bangles would they make? Jind and other districts had already lost out to the stiff competition from the nearby glass bangle-making hub of Firozabad. So when UNDP started imparting extensive training to these women, it focused on lac and metal – metalworks is incidentally also one of the traditional activities in the state.
Rather quickly, what started as an individual enterprise matured into a group enterprise. Ever since bangle-making became the primary source of livelihood for these women. They sold dozens of these in Gram Sangathan meetings and cluster meetings. The group promoted its products for bulk sales through special discounts.
However, when the pandemic started, like all others, the Sanjeevani Cluster too stopped making sales, just like all other businesses that require a close buyer and seller interaction – in this case, door-to-door. “For us, life came to a halt. During the lockdown period, I had lost all hopes of restarting my bangle business. It was the lowest phase for the whole family. All the means of our livelihoods were lost, with my husband returning home due to the shutting down of his factory operations in Delhi. I was extremely worried for my fellow women members also as for many of them selling bangles is the primary source of livelihood”, says Babli.
To respond to the situation, the on-ground technical partner with support from UNDP and Japan Government Fund, helped the cluster regain their business and build resilience through extensive training. With newly acquired business skills, financial literacy, and marketing skills, Babli and others could access markets in the nearby areas of Chandigarh and Gurgaon. These are centres well known for their high demand of bangles, especially during the Hindu festival season of Karwa Chauth, Navratri, and Diwali, typically during October-November.
Timely intervention to train these women allowed them to earn income where the hope of making any sale during the peak business season was lost. Where in an average year, they made approximately 48 USD every month, with their training they earned approximately 75 USD last November. With a typical profit margin of 20-30% depending on the quantity sold, it left them with a sizable amount to ensure their families did not go hungry.
Babli gleefully remarks, “The training has not just helped us build better market connections but has also given us the confidence that our business could be expanded to other districts and at a national scale through e-commerce platforms. I am confident that my business will scale up to more, and that such lockdowns will not impact my family livelihood anymore”.
At present, along with 24 other women, Babli is being trained on Amazon onboarding processes and associated compliance aspects through handholding support under the project funded by the Japanese government. They are now planning to boost their cluster sales, by diversifying their product base to include more handmade products. (Resounding the jingle of bangles)
To women like Babli, this is an achievement of some measure as she belongs to a state where the male: female ratio is one of the lowest in the country, and gender-related social constraints assert a greater pull. But with support from the state government and organisations like UNDP, she is one of the 2,000 women in the state of Haryana, who can now dream of not just regaining the lost ground of her business but also taking it to other physical and virtual markets at an accelerated pace.
With the right impetus from private and semi-private sectors, it is possible to turn the pandemic tide into a positive one for thousands of women in other rural parts of India, who are the worst affected gender by COVID.