masutaFor Kunti Devi of Gandhrakpur village in Dumka district of Jharkhand, reeling yarn from tasar cocoons has brought about a much better quality of life for her and her family. She no longer has to worry about feeding her children. She is now able to send her 15-year old daughter and 12-year old son to school and also provide them with private tuition. But far more importantly to her, Kunti Devi believes that reeling has brought new meaning and dignity to her life since she became a regular earning member contributing to the welfare of her family, all without leaving her home and village. Says she, “I have learnt to earn and stand on my own feet. What more could I wish for?”

A hard life of labour has made Salkhi Devi look much older that her 40 years. She lives in the remote village of Junglepura Letwa in Banka district in Bihar, where the basics of modern life like paved roads and electricity, or for that matter adequate food, clothing and shelter, are still distant dreams. All this, however, has not stopped Salkhi Devi to successfully overcome poverty. She is a star producer of tasar yarn, earning more than Rs 18,000 a year from the occupation. For a woman who had never seen the world outside her village till she was 37, Salkhi Devi is today a frequent traveller, visiting many villages to train women and spread the message of reeling yarn to transform lives.

masuta All this would have seemed a distant dream to her even a few years ago, when this mother of three sons and three daughters struggled to feed her children. The land her husband Kailu Tanti cultivated was barely sufficient to feed the family for just a few months in a year. He migrated long for wage labour every year. They were ridden with debt and saw no way out of this life of poverty and misery. Salkhi Devi became a member of a SHG promoted by PRADAN. Peer support and credit from the SHG ensured that she managed little domestic crises like illnesses without getting further indebted to local moneylenders. Then came a big leap forward. PRADAN set up a tasar yarn reeling centre in the neighbouring village of Bhusiatari in Katoria block where Salkhi and other SHG members could find a way to earn regularly. A reeling centre was built with funds from the special SGSY project and reeling machines were bought for the women. The reeling centre was then registered as MBT and became a member of their company named MASUTA. Putting aside her initial hesitation, Salkhi Devi started to reel her way out of poverty. Today she is a proud workingwoman whose earnings contribute significantly and regularly to family coffers. “If it were not for reeling yarn, I would still be struggling to make ends meet and would have never dreamt of a better future for my children,” says Salkhi Devi. Salkhi Devi went to Raksha village in Bihar for her training. Says she, “We learnt about the raw material (cocoons) and the reeling machine, learnt to improve our hand-eye coordination and understand quality parameters”.

“I would any day prefer reeling yarn in the centre than work as a farm labour or scavenge for firewood in the jungles,” says Yalwa Devi of Phitkoria village in Dumka district in Jharkhand. For Salkhi Devi, working in the Centre is like “going to office.” She has the active support of her husband Kailu Tanti.

Says Jaba Das of Gandhrakpur village of Dumka in Jharkhand, “When I started working, I could extract yarn from only 50 cocoons in a day. Now I utilize more than 150 cocoons and earn about Rs 1,000 in a month.” This income has transformed her family from being chronically poor to a situation when Jaba pays for private tuition for her daughter and son. Loans and mortgages are things of the past.

“I was always dependent on my husband. Today I earn regularly on my own. Making ends meet no longer means living in debt,” says Kunti Devi of Gandhrakpur, working in the same centre as Jaba Das.

For Salkhi Devi of Junglepura Letwa, reeling yarn is now a way of life. “SHGs gave us hope against poverty and debt. Reeling has given us the opportunity to turn our hopes into reality,” says Salkhi Devi. She has become an enthusiastic proponent and travels frequently to other villages to train other women.

Sonia Devi masutain Sarua, Salkhi DeviJunglepara Letwa, Yalwa Devi in Phitkoria, Kunti Devi and Jaba Das in Gandhrakpur unanimously feel that their family and social standing has significantly improved. “My husband now consults me on all matters,” says Sonia. Yalwa Devi’s husband is proud of the fact that his wife travels to Deoghar on business. Jaba’s husband now helps her in household work. Salkhi Devi’s husband Kailu Tanti helps by de-husking paddy, a task traditionally forced upon the women.

The increased respect at home is also reflected in the village and the community. The women reelers of Gandhrakpur in Dumka banded together to protest harassment by a local strongman. They took up the matter with the community and police. The “strongman” is now especially polite to them. Salkhi Devi probably sums it the best, “The men in Junglepura Letwa no longer look down upon the women. How can they? We earn more than most of them and we are united.”