Following his streak of kindness and humaneness combined, Prashant Dwivedi, 27, ended up empowering women of his Madhya Pradesh village during lockdown by making them self-reliant
When the lockdown was announced without any warning in March this year, little did anyone realize that it would – one,last several months and two, that it would affect so many so adversely. Neither had anyone foreseen that it would demand survival at its most unadulterated level. And few amongst us had known that we carried within us a streak of entrepreneurship that could surge to the fore to help and assist fellow humans. One such youngster who discovered the spark in him was 27-year old Prashant Dwivedi who found his place under the Sun when he saw migrant workers returning home empty-handed, tired and dejected. He knew it called for action, and fast. Based out of Delhi but familiar with his ancestral village of Rampurva in Madhya Pradesh, Prashant was on a visit to his village when he got stuck there due to the lockdown. So he got down to the business of creating Gobar Ganeshas for Ganesh Chaturthi and subsequently making diyas for Deepavali with the help of the village folk.
During the lockdown, “we saw the desperate condition of workers who returned homed ejected and unhappy,” he says. “We knew something had to be done and quickly. It was a survival issue. It was felt that we could monetize people who had returned, mostly from Gujarat and Maharashtra where they had been employed in small jobs. What was very sad, however, was that whatever they had managed to save – small amounts like INR 8000-10,000 was all spent on coming back home.
“Plus, being mentally and physically exhausted, most men were not so keen on returning to work immediately and were slower to motivate. Women on the other hand, inherently know that survival is key. Our focus was on employment for women and not so much for men, mostly because I have observed that men usually find something or the other to do – it’s the women who are held back because of existing patriarchal norms. Making them empowered, in however small a way is the idea. Its interesting to note that a woman is keen on passing on her skills to her daughters.
“They are better team workers too, and quickly and naturally enlist the help of younger girls, neighbours, sisters and others. They are natural managers without being aware of it. Most importantly they are hungry to learn new skills. But given the social mores, women are confined to homes and restricted in terms of the kind of work they can take up. Rampurva is about 10 kms from Maihar and about 3-4 kms from Satna. These are the nearest cities. For women to venture out and do something there, is almost unheard of.
“Our quick surveys revealed that local women were already employed in bidi-making business. Initially, I used to think that they make these bidis for themselves but later I found they were actually employed! They were the ones who were enthused to take up additional work to generate quick income. All this lent strength to our thought that we must focus on work that could begin immediately and without too much machinery or large scale investment.”
As promoters of local for vocal principle, Dwivedi chose an independent self-sustainable model instead of depending on the government help or funds, which could take months to materialise. “We decided to come up with a model which would work irrespective of external assistance. We invested a seed capital of INR 150,000, basically all my savings, and decided to use it to start our venture. We bought dyes and moulds for Ganpatis initially and later for Deepavali diyas, which was purchased for approx. INR 35,000 from Jabalpur. The rest was utilized in setting up the workshop, training three women who worked on this; transport cost to the local markets and over all R&D. We did not have to invest anything in procuring our raw material of Gobar (cow dung) because we have a gaushala which has 700-1000 cows, in our village.
The idea now is to create sustainable income throughout the year rather than make it a seasonal, festival centric exercise. So the team is in the process of exploring options of what can work. It could be dhoop or agarbattis (incense sticks); corrugated box packaging; handmade paper – all of which can be recycled and reused, “but the base will be Gobar,” shares Dwivedi.
“The idea is to utilize our available resources – be it raw material or labour and ensure that income is generated throughout the year.”
Coming back to the model that worked for them Dwivedi explains that, “From June to Diwali, we were able to create two sets of products – Gobar Ganeshas for Ganesh Chaturthi and gobar diyas for Deepavali. Though we made only about a 100 Ganeshas and about 1000 diyas and gave work to only 3 women, it still helped in motivating some of the others, who ended up volunteering. The three women – Sita, Parvati and Gudiya earned between Rs. 7000-8000 each for their month and a half of labour. We also encouraged them to go and sell their products at the local chaurahas(cross-roads) and markets and distribute their earnings amongst themselves. But it wasn’t easy because of Covid 19. But later, some men of their homes accompanied them on this last leg, which gave them confidence.”
Dwivedi graduated in Journalism and Mass Communication from IP university in 2014. The youngest of three siblings, he has always wanted to do something which would make his parents proud. Coming from a family with deep spiritual roots (his father Acharya Sri Jairamji Maharaj is a well-known spiritual guru) and mother a homemaker, Prashant has volunteered in non-profit organisations earlier which have given him a clear goal for life. “My vision is to contribute something and give back to society. An opportunity to work with ONGC Foundation as a consultant (the CSR department of ONGC) under Ministry of Petroleum helped me learned about CSR andfunctioning of TRUSTs /NGOS and Societies. It was always my dream to do something good.”
Well, you just did. More power to you and the women you empower.
What's Your Reaction?
Manjulaa Shirodkar (nee Negi) is an established film critic and author, having worked in leading national publications. She is also a Film Selection Committee member for various film festivals.