When Drought Hit Their Husbands’ Jobs, These Feisty Village Housewives Stepped Up To Run Their Families

Image Source: Paalaguttapalle Bags

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What would you do if the meagre income your family is surviving on, vanishes one day? What would you do if you do not find any other job because you stay in a remote village? Sounds terrifying! Doesn’t it? Families in Paalaguttapalle experienced the same due to continuous droughts between 2010 and 2015. Paalaguttapalle is a small hamlet, with about 60 Dalit families, in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district. Men and women couldn’t find employment in the village which led to financial distress. The housewives in the village came together and started a business to restore the financial balance in their households. 

How did the situation change?

The women all sat together one day near the village temple to discuss the issues that are plaguing their village due to continuous drought. Some of them knew tailoring. Aparna Krishnan, who has also been living here since 1995, was there with them. She said she would start looking for orders.

“My husband Nagesh and I moved to this village in 1995, after leaving our city jobs. We wanted to lead a more meaningful and useful life. We bought some land to farm. I also started teaching kids in the local govt school. We practised Ayurveda. We also started working on rainwater harvesting, farming and agricultural issues, livelihood and afforestation.” said Aparna

When the village economy was reeling due to continuous drought, men lost their jobs and there was no steady source of income. ‘Paalaguttapalle Bags’ venture started with a simple order for 100 bags from Aparna’s friend’s shop in Bengaluru. After the bags were delivered to the shop owner, he liked the quality and they started receiving more orders. In no time, the stitching team grew from one to nine. Now they make tote bags, gusset bags, sling bags, lunch bags with zip and bags with custom prints of logos and designs.  


Aparna Krishnan (left)

How do they operate?

“Some of us together support the women in some external ways like connecting with the customers, spreading the word about bags through social media and friends, helping them with handling financial accounts and getting the skill training. The women themselves handle all the production work. ,” says Aparna.

The team

The team consists of Roopa, Rani, Ramila, Nirmala, Annapurna, Lakshmikantha, Anitha, Buji and Kala. From picking up the raw material from the nearby town, making and packing the bags to delivering them to customers via India Post – everything is entirely handled by the women.

The women travelled to Chennai to learn screen printing when the customers started asking for custom logos and designs. Aparna Krishnan’s Facebook friend Suraj’s father Narasimha connected the women to artist Bhaskar, who agreed to teach them screen printing free of cost. Another Facebook contact Vignesh accompanied the women in Chennai during their training days. He took complete responsibility for making it work for them in the village. Arun Kombai, also met on Facebook, with his brilliant design skills took the bags to another level.

Vegetable compartment bag

Confused with the new terminology “Vegetable compartment bag”? See the image below.


Vegetable compartment bag

In recent months, this bag has been a huge hit. This bag helps you to segregate and carry your veggies from the market while reducing the usage of plastic covers which we use normally to preserve vegetables.

“The design of the vegetable compartment bag was suggested by one person. I passed on the idea to the women. In one day, the women came up with the prototype and soon we were flooded by orders,” says Aparna Krishnan.

The bag is made using the cotton brought from Madurai. It has six compartments and is available in two sizes — the large one can carry 10 kgs and the extra large has a capacity of 15 kg.

From local to global

Through word of mouth, the women got orders from many prestigious events. The women supplied the bags for the Organic World Congress and for the Aid India meetings. Orders have also come from abroad – Hong Kong, events in America and Canada and also the UK


The bag the women made for the jewellery store in Hong Kong

Want to sport one of these wonderful bags as your new style statement? You can reach out to them at [email protected] or visit their Facebook page.

Also Read: Toilets That Make Gardens From Humanure: An Eco-Friendly Future Can Come From Your Toilet

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MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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