When a group of students clad in ‘modern’ jeans and T-shirts knocked on the door of Tejpal Singh, requesting an audience with his wife, he was surprised. The Mangar village resident was even more taken aback at the audacity of the young girls when they told him that they wanted to teach his wife skills to earn some money.
“He was aghast, so were the other men in the village, when we told them that we wanted to conduct workshops to empower women in their families. It was unacceptable to them that some outsiders were challenging their centuries-old patriarchal set-up,” says Kanupriya Raman, final year student of Lady Shri Ram (LSR) College and team lead of Project Auric, which has been empowering women to be self-dependent in the village, situated on the Gurgaon-Faridabad Expressway.
Project Auric entails teaching the illiterate women how to manufacture dish-washing detergent, which is then sold in the market. “This sustainable model of earning is holistic in its approach. Apart from giving these women, who have been repressed for years owing to the parochial set-up in society, a sense of liberation, it is also promoting environmental conservation. The detergent is sold in recyclable PET bottles to help reduce carbon footprint,” Raman informs.
When the LSR team started working on the project one-and-half years ago, they had not imagined that their journey will be fraught with so many confrontations with deeply rigid traditions. So before the girls conducted workshops in the village, they held “faith-building” sessions with the husbands of these women. They were made aware of the benefits of their wives contributing to the household income.
“Once we reasoned the financial advantage with them, they let go off their apprehensions. Moreover, the men themselves hardly earn anything. So, this was an inviting proposition for them,” Raman says.
The students provide the women raw material for the detergent and then sell it to general stores, hotels, restaurants, households, and so on. Priced at a nominal Rs 40, the detergent helps them earn an average of Rs 1,000 per month. This self-reliance has boosted the confidence of these women, making them more assertive about their rights.
The LSR team maintains that they have seen an impressive change in the way these women conduct themselves and handle their lives. “They are slowly turning into decision makers in their families. After years of being neglected and treated shabbily, Project Auric is giving them the much-required impetus,” she says.