Earlier this month, a long standing communication was actualised. I travelled to villages around Mysore in Karnataka to witness the work that Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), CSR wing of TVS Motors, do.
Since its inception in 1996, SST has grown into an independent arm with a vast team. They predominantly work in five states of south India and Himachal Pradesh. Their work has grown from two to 5000 villages. Around Mysore alone, they operate across 356 villages and counting.
On my one day’s visit, we rushed across six villages hastily understanding how they facilitate and support livelihood here.
SST’s paradigm of work focuses on six sectors, namely economic, education, environment, health, social development and infrastructure. Under each of these, they further diversify and cover all sub-sectors.
SST work as facilitators, not financiers. If there is a toilet requirement in a school, for example, they facilitate the process by working together with existing donors. In most sectors, they support and empower people with information about various government schemes available and encourage them to use it.
Pottery in Doora
Here I met members of various farmers’ Self Help Group (SHG) who (apart from farming) also earn their living by selling earthenware. These are in the form of flower pots, vases, kitchen crockery like pots and pans and occasional, pen/candle stands and smaller artefacts.
In this village, there are 17 families who are trained in this skill. Deva Setty from Basaveshwara Farmers SHG and Thimma Setty from Bairaweshwara Farmers SHG demonstrated their skills by making impressive flower pots, which they designed delicately with hands.
Venkatesh, who helped me in shaping an unsuccessful pen stand, also teaches in a fine arts college in Mysore. He impressed me with his accurate usage of English while instructing me to shape clay on the spinning wheel.
These artisans sell their handmade creations in various markets in and around Mysore. A flower pot costs approximately ₹50, a vase/smaller items anywhere between ₹15-20 and cooking pots and pans anywhere between ₹70-100. They are also available for sale in the village itself and they happily accept bulk orders.
Baskets of Utanahalli
A large group of women greeted us in an open room in Utanahalli village. They too were a part of different SHGs and weave baskets.
Initially, they bought raw materials (at a higher price) used for making baskets from a retailer. The SHGs aid them financially, if any. These groups have also made them smart negotiators, who now pay only the exact worth of the raw material. They sell their baskets directly in the market, thereby, removing an entire hassle of communicating with a middleman. In course of time, their profit margin has risen to 50 per cent.
These groups have instilled confidence in these women. They go to banks and understand money, they believe in empowering the community, they balance time between family and work, and most importantly, they come out and interact with strangers like me.
My crash course in interlacing baskets was aided by Jyoti and Soumya. Both have two children, each and they make time to hone their skill, amidst home chores. On an average, a medium sized basket takes them a maximum of two days. These are priced around ₹150 and bigger ones between ₹150-250.
A lot of women have alternate sources of income too. These include tailoring and small shops. With their savings, they shop for themselves (saris and jewellery are their favourite) and also invest in home decor or children’s education.
Tailoring in Badanavalu
A distance away from Utanahalli village, we drove off to quiet Badanavalu. Here I met another roomful of women but in certain designs of saris. To differentiate and maintain healthy competition between SHGs, these tailor-mistresses have assigned their group a unanimous sari, which has become their uniform.
There are 16 groups here and a minimum of 15 members in each group. There are women who have been a part of these groups for two to 10 years. This particular village focusses on making aprons for TVS employees. They earn ₹50 an apron, depending upon design, quality and purpose of use. They also accept tailoring or stitching orders from other companies. Quite a few of them also design blouses (for saris) and kurtas for their relatives and friends.
I kept going back to their attractive sari-uniforms. It made me realise how their uniform and groups build a sense of ownership, belonging and unity among them.
Chapatti-making in Byathahalli
Perhaps the most exciting community work I saw on this trip was the process of making chapattis in Byathahalli village. Only a few metres away from TVS Motor company plant, this is one of the two units of SST where rotis are made.
The women in this unit make over 5000 chapattis in one day. In two shifts, these are made for the TVS staffers. This unit alone consumes 1.5 LPG (commercial) cylinders, 125 kgs of wheat flour, 8 lts of oil and about 3 kgs of salt every day. Each roti weighs approximately 35 gms and 25 rotis make a bundle. The women earn ₹1.95 per roti.
If I had to put a list of ‘tough work in this world’, making chapattis would definitely be included. For the first few minutes in the room, I stood in awe observing their systematic and organised teamwork. Each woman did her work flawlessly and in equal capacity with her neighbouring colleague. It occurred to me that if bigger departments worked as industriously, we would be a superpower!
Good to know
-Unlike other CSR teams, SST works continuously and extends to villages where work has to be done.
-All of the villages I visited, i.e. Doora, Utanahalli, Badanavalu, Dachalli Hundi and Byathahalli are accessible by road.
-SST works on a need basis, i.e. if a community or village comes to them with a requirement, they assess, plan, organise, aid and create processes to fulfil the need.
-SST does not financially contribute. They educate, empower, mediate and facilitate people. They work very closely with Gram Panchayats and other government bodies.
-SST has been working on Sustainable Development Goals and club with macro initiatives like Make in India and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
-Even though my time was too short here I noticed the mindset shift in these communities. They support and work together, trust their colleagues with their earnings, practice hygienic living beyond their own homes, and are driven to be self-sufficient and independent.
-If you’d like to purchase either earthenware or baskets, leave a comment below and I will share the contact details.
Have you witnessed sustainable India?
Note: I was invited by SST/TVS Motors to understand their work in these villages.