In our travels across rural Tamil Nadu we met many women who had a great deal of experience in working in the large garments factories of the state – in Tiruppur and Chennai. But, after getting married their family responsibilities forced them to leave their jobs and return to their villages. Now these young women have put their years of experience to use and are setting up small enterprises in their home villages, sewing garments for India’s huge domestic market. It is a win-win situation for all. Working out of thatched huts and refurbished cowsheds, the newly-minted women entrepreneurs not only turn in a tidy profit but also create much-needed employment for others. The large garment manufacturing companies, faced with crippling shortages of skilled labor, now outsource orders to these units. Today, these fast-growing women’s enterprises have not only opened up new avenues for rural women to work, boosting female labor force participation, but also added a new grassroots and gender dimension to the idea of Start Up India.
As we entered the small hut of rammed earth thatched with coconut leaves, the sounds we heard belonged to a different world. Amidst the whir of industrial sewing machines, nine young women were busy stitching bolts of fabric into men’s shirts, destined for India’s vast domestic market for low-cost garments.
This was Inam Koilpatti village in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Even though many villages in the state were rapidly urbanising, this village still had many huts, and prosperity was yet to arrive.
Two young women, Indhurani and Gurupakkiam, ran this tiny unit. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, these women have unwittingly given a much-needed boost to the idea of ‘Start Up India’ in this poor region.
“We were both working at a company in Thalavaipuram,” they began. (Thalavaipuram is an emerging garments hub nearby.) “But, with family responsibilities it was getting hard for us to travel 20 km to work. Three years ago we approached our employer with a proposition. We would set up a unit in our village, if he would give us orders,” they narrated.