The past few years have seen the formation of several new self-help groups (SHGs), mostly made up of women, in the tiny village of Padavedu in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu. Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social service arm of TVS Motor Company Ltd and Sundaram Clayton Ltd, is empowering rural women ensure a basic income for their families and become self-reliant. Many SHGs work in weaving baskets from banana fibre, processing honey and turmeric, manufacturing nighties, and such. 

In Tamil Nadu alone, there are 4,000 SHGs supported by SST. For educated women, especially in the aftermath of Covid, such SHGs have given a means of coping and a way out of grinding poverty. Ganga (24), a BSc chemistry graduate, now an SHG member, was working in a chemical factory in MM Nagar, Chennai. She lost her job due to Covid and was forced to return home. She learned the ropes of weaving baskets from banana fibre, and now makes a monthly income of ₹8,000.  

Ganga, 24, an SHG member of the banana fibre handicrafts unit, Padavedu

Ganga, 24, an SHG member of the banana fibre handicrafts unit, Padavedu

Kalai, also 24, was working as a salesperson in a retail store in Chennai at a monthly salary of ₹12,000 till 2020. She voluntarily left her job to come back to Padavedu, feeling unfulfilled by her job. Though now she earns close to ₹8,000, relatively less, she believes she has made the right decision. “I like this job. I am learning and teaching other women as well. The cost of living is not high and this is sufficient. I am in my own village and closer to my people. Soon, we’ll expand this unit and ‘export’ our baskets worldwide,” she says, with glee in her eyes.  

Another successful SHG which came up in 2020 is ‘Karthika Garment,’ a micro-enterprise in Gangaisoodamani panchayat of Chetpet block, run by five women, that makes and sells nighties. Sarala, a member of the SHG, says, “Nighties always make good sales around here. Little girls to old women, everyone wears nighties at home. We did a little survey to find out the durability, quality, and design preferences women have. Since, we also wear nighties, and know what people expect or want, we are trying to fill that gap.” 

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SST facilitated a loan amount of ₹1.5 lakh from Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project (TNRTP). As of now, the loan amount suffices the operating costs of the unit (machines, electricity bill, and fabric procurement). Women of these SHGs make a monthly income of ₹2,000 from the local sales after paying off their monthly dues. They have expansion plans of becoming a large-scale garment factory in the near future. 

The Javadhu hills right outside Vellore are famous for honey. A group of twelve tribal women in Shenbagathoppu village, known as Venkatesa Perumal Tribal Women’s SHG, collect raw honey from the local honey hunters, which is then heated up to 60 degrees, filtered for floating impurities like pollen, bee stings, and dust, cooled off, and stored in large containers. It is bottled, labelled, and then sent for marketing. 

A tribal women’s SHG, supported by SST,  has processed 1.85 tonnes of wild honey from Javadhu hills across India

A tribal women’s SHG, supported by SST, has processed 1.85 tonnes of wild honey from Javadhu hills across India

In 2010, seeing promise, the Tribal Co-operative Marketing Federation of India (TRIFED) provided a financial aid of ₹50,500 for training the women in packaging methods. A year later, the Women’s Development Corporation (WDC) gave additional assistance of ₹1.25 lakh to purchase the equipment needed to improve the packaging process. Today, the Venkatesa Perumal SHG is processing and marketing about 1.85 tonnes of honey across India.  

To broaden the scope and improve sales, all the products made by SHGs across India are now available on an online e-commerce platform called Truly Cottage, launched in 2021. There is also a retail store by the same name in Tirumangalam, Chennai. 

“Truly Cottage is the platform for propagating all the activities of the self-help groups. Whatever sales we make from the platform goes back to the self-help groups. We are seeing a huge demand for these authentic products. In the past year, close to ₹1 crore was generated from sale of SHG products. We want to take these products to Amazon and Flipkart. We also wish to strengthen our social media presence and reach more people. We want to expand in phases and I am planning to invest ₹50 lakh in such activities this year,” says Singh.