By Ashna Butani
Mother Teresa Women’s Complex brims with activity, as 55 women set up stalls with meticulously handcrafted items. The Women’s Mela is organised by the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women, with an aim to employ those who could not sustain their livelihoods.
Sketches and paintings adorn the tables and walls while fresh fruits and vegetables sit on the tables beside. Kurtis, dresses and saris in myriad colours and prints entice the customers.
The mela is held every year after the Pongal festival. It began on 4th February and continued till 15th February. However, this is the first time that the Corporation is pushing forward the Urban Livelihood Mission, which primarily focuses on helping the urban poor.
Vasanti, from Namakkal, proudly displays a range of herbal products. The self-help group (SHG) consisting of 23 women, work with Dr. Sidha to make herbal oils, medicines, juices and other products. Vasanti’s son studies in a government college. “12 years ago, I was only a housewife. But the SHG really helped me. Now I work all year round to make herbal products for the company Yogam herbs,” she says.
This exhibition is held every year during Summer and Winter. It also held during the festive Diwali and Pongal seasons. “Our main motto is poverty alleviation,” says B Senthil Kumar, executive of State Supply and Marketing Society. The Corporation also invites rural farmers to set up organic markets in the same complex on the first weekend of every month.
Even though many urban women are displaying their products for the first time, there have been women from other villages who have been working on their craft for years. “Across the state, there are approximately a crore women who belong to SHGs”, says Kumar. Training and financial assistance is given to the SHGs. “We help in linking them with banks for credit facilities,” he adds.
The products are of two types – traditional products such as handloom saris, terra cotta items and food products and demand based products such as crafts, earrings and bags. For demand based products, the Corporation imparts training to the women, whereas, skills in traditional products are passed down from one generation to another.
The more experienced women teach the newcomers the nitty-grittys of the craft. Lily from Chennai derives pleasure from making and selling earrings, bracelets and chains. She is a member of SHG that created their own brand, “Humming Box.”
The group was started by Nancy Kalaiarasan, a housewife whose family was relocated to Perumbakkam from Thideer Nagar. She and 14 others formed the jewellery making self-help group, who receive training and aid from the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board. Some of the women are housewives and some, widows. They meet twice a week to make jewellery and borrow ideas from magazines and the internet to keep up with trends.
Exhibitions are organised at the district level, state level and the national level. “We are all going to Delhi for an exhibition next month,” says Vasanti, eager to travel outside Tamil Nadu for the first time.