A community programme in Mirzapur has made palpable difference in empowering anyone who has a workable idea to become an entrepreneur, discovers Sakshi Sharma
Bamboo huts with thatched roofs, open areas with cots and trees in front, a vegetable garden in the backyard, walls covered with a mixture of cow dung, dirt and grass, rangolis at the entrance, hospitable people with a shine and curiosity in their eyes... all this, and more are noticeable in the sweep of an eye when one enters Mirzapur, recently made famous by a web series.
But while that is the reel, there are stories of hope, development and progress, which form the warp and weft of the real in the area, which remains ignored as it is imagined, falsely, of course, that the rural sector lacks in entrepreneurship because the majority of the populace is illiterate. However, delving deeper reveals that there are a number of innovative minds who can do wonders when provided the right guidance. And specially given the fact that there is an increase in the number of unemployed youth each year and if there is an emphasis on changing the outlook from a job-seeker to a creator, it can transform the area. Development Alternatives, a social enterprise, is working towards the same goal through its Work 4 Progress programme, which is a platform for encouraging entrepreneurship.
The programme commenced in 2017 and since then, it has impacted several lives. We were here to witness that change and ensure that other people could see the transformation in Mirzapur, which is far-removed from the gun and mafia culture perpetuated by the eponymous series.
The journey began from a school in Kantit Gramin village. From afar, we could hear girls laughing, giggling and clapping among themselves. When we entered, they were so excited to take this forward that they all shouted, “Sister, we will first sing a song.” This was followed by details of how the programme had empowered them. Mamta Yadav, an 18-year-old, said, “We now understand the role education plays in shaping a child’s future. Not only this, we are also aware about child marriage and child rights.” She recalled an incident where she, along with a group of girls, stood for the rights of an underage girl from a nearby village, who was being forced to get married. As she shared this, the classroom echoed with claps from every corner. Another girl, Kavita Patel, a student of BA first year, said, “The programme has empowered us and we feel more confident now. Earlier, we fumbled for words even when we discussed our basic needs.” However, when asked about their parents’ reaction to all this, a girl from the corner of the class promptly answered, “Mere papa ab mere dost ban gaye hai (My father is my friend now).” She explained that earlier their parents didn’t allow them to study and wanted them to invest their time in household chores.
To solve this issue, an inclusive programme was conducted for father-daughter and mother-daughter separately to make the parents understand the importance of education. Though initially rigid for about six months to a year, they finally understood the need to adapt to the changing times. The transition from the programme was such that the girls who could barely speak for themselves began fighting for the rights of others. The ones who had been confined within the four walls were now saying out loud that they wanted to become an IAS officer, a teacher, a doctor or a singer.
We then headed towards a closed room in the narrow lanes of the village filled with mud and cow dung. It was Tara Mani and his wife, Malti Devi’s home, which was more like a home-cum-shop, as it had a bed on one side and machines on the other. They had a small business where they sold vermilion. Tara said, “Earlier, I only made sindoor boxes but the programme has made us aware about the Startup Village Enterprise Programme (SVEP), which provides loan to the rural women to motivate them for small-scale businesses.” So Malti took a loan and set up a machine to make vermilion too. She added, “Our vermilion and its box has a special shine. People from far away come to buy it.” As she said this, her head became a tad more alert, her shoulders straightened up and there was no mistaking the hint of pride in her statement.
Another entrepreneur was Asha Devi, a strong-headed middle-aged woman, whose success clearly reflected in her personality. Her idea had come to fruitation, which also added revenue to her family earnings. In March 2018, she decided to set up a vermicompost enterprise, which now runs successfully and was supported by the programme during ideation. Today, she even makes profit out of her business and runs it without debts. She said, “A lot of effort has gone into bringing this business to the level where it is today,” and made sure that we were made aware about her online presence before we took her leave.
While the assistance from the programme helped, the people themselves were not lacking in enterprise. The way to Mamta Devi’s ice-cream manufacturing unit of Dhannipatti village might not have a proper road as there were was a smattering of bricks on the wet mud to ensure that people did not soil their footwear or their feet but the petite woman had expanded her business to employ seven people. “I am not stopping here. I also want to set-up a chips packaging machine,” she said as we all looked at her in wonder.
The day also saw a village entrepreneurship fair — Taragram Mela in the National Convent Public School — where people from all walks of life who had started something of their own were present. Clearly, there is no stopping of ideas.