As the country gears up to celebrate its 75th Independence Day, 700 sewing units under Kudumbashree in Kerala are on overdrive, working to finish the 50 lakh national flags that will be hoisted in homes and institutions all over the state. In Peringazha in Ernakulam district’s Kalamassery, Crystal Carry Bags, a sewing unit under Kudumbashree primarily engaged in manufacture of bags, was busy executing the orders it received ahead of the August 11 deadline. Eight members were engaged in measuring, cutting and stitching the flags to precision, under the leadership of Bindu, the president of the unit, and Jubina CP, the secretary.
Operating from the first floor of Jubina’s home, the one-year-old unit has five sewing machines and two fabric-cutting machines. Besides the eight women working from here, the unit also has other members working from their homes. “Earlier, everybody used to work from their own homes. But I found that the products lacked the desired perfection. That was when we decided to take out a loan and set up this unit,” says Jubina, who is also the secretary of the Kudumbashree’s District Tailoring Consortium.
In Ernakulam district, the national flags are stitched under the coordination of the Consortium. Established in 2020, the Consortium’s flag-making works involve 235 women through its 55 units. They receive orders from schools, governmental and semi-governmental institutions and local self-governments. Ajith PA, District Programme Manager, said two lakh flags were expected to be distributed in Ernakulam. “Orders for 1.6 lakh flags have been received as of August 8,” he said. The fabric for the flags is sourced from Surat in Gujarat and Erode in Tamil Nadu. Following the recent amendment of the Flag Code of India, a polyester-mix fabric is used in stitching the flags. The initiative is part of the Union Government’s Har Ghar Tiranga campaign, aimed at inspiring national integration.
The women at Crystal say that it gives them immense pride to be a part of the country’s historic celebration through their work. Haseena Sherif (38), a member of the Kudumbashree for the past 12 years and has been engaged in stitching works for the past couple years said that this was the first time she was able to take part in a national campaign like this one.
“I am very proud and happy that I got this opportunity to make the flags,” she said. Her colleague Jameela Firoz (40) also expressed her pleasure in being a part of the campaign. “Women like us are often asked what we have done for the society and the country, our contributions always looked down on. Now I can say that mine were among the lakhs of flags that were hoisted around the country for Independence Day,” she said, beaming. Unlike most of her colleagues, Jameela Firoz has never received any training in sewing.
The women at Crystal credit their secretary Jubina for all their gains. A plus-two graduate, Jubina says she always believed in the need to be self-sustained, and did not like being dependent on others for her financial needs. She is well aware that financial independence is the first step towards being empowered. This was why she started her own sewing business at her home in 2018. In 2019, the Kalamassery East CDS trained women in stitching cloth bags. Jubina, Bindhu and a few others from Peringazha attended the training and started stitching cloth bags from their homes in December 2019.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the women branched out to making cloth masks. During that time, women who were not members of Kudumbashree were also included in the works. “The lockdown affected the income sources of several households. The mask sales helped several of them through the difficult times,” Jubina remembers. The Kudumbashree had also organised training for sewing masks under NIFT at Nellikuzhi Apparel Unit for one or two members from each block. Jubina attended the training from Peringazha. The Tailoring Consortium was established by the Ernakulam District Mission around this time.
Later, when the Government of Kerala initiated distribution of ration kits through the PDS, the women were tasked with stitching cloth bags. “Since then, we have continuously received cloth bag orders. There has not been a period where we didn’t have any work,” she adds. The difficulty in delivering materials and collecting the products from homes and a lack of perfection in the work prompted me to think of setting up a single unit. That is how Crystal was set up in its present form. A Rs 3.5 lakh loan was availed from the Kalamassery Municipality’s plan fund for the same,” she explains.
The unit initially functioned from a rented room but in an effort to cut down on monthly rent expenses, they later shifted to Jubina’s home. The mask and cloth bag orders are what helped the unit stand on its feet, she admits.
Media coverage of the unit’s work has helped bring more women into its fold. Several of them are able to make substantial contributions to their family’s income through the sewing work. For Jameela Firoz, the income from Crystal is what sustains her family now. “My husband cuts fish at a local outlet. The recent trawling ban and the rough seas that followed brought in dull business. It was my earnings that helped pay the rent and take care of my children’s needs last month,” she says.
Pennamma KK (60) lost her husband to tuberculosis four months back. He was chronically ill for a long time. Pennamma is a retired peon in a cooperative bank. It is her income that sustained the family all along. Since her monthly pension is barely sufficient to pay back their housing loan, Pennamma joined Kudumbashree after her retirement.
Rahima Siyad (36), a resident of HMT Colony, also acknowledged the positive contribution her income makes. “I joined Kudumbashree a year and a half back when I saw the empowerment that the women around me got through it. Being able to take care of my children’s needs with my hard-earned money is extremely gratifying,” she says.
Another member Jaseela Ashraf (32) agrees with Rahima. Sewing has always been her favourite occupation. Even before she joined Crystal a year back, she used to make dresses for her family and friends. “When I moved to Peringazha from my native Malappuram a short while back, it wasn’t possible for me to set up my own venture soon. So, I joined the women in my neighbourhood and began working through Kudumbashree. Being financially independent earns me respect from my family and my opinions and suggestions are valued,” she says.