A Woman who broke the shackles of destiny and became a Role Model
'Married at the age of 23 to an impoverished farmer, Sujata Rout from Balangir in Odisha has leveraged the assistance she received from Reliance Foundation and used her entrepreneurial ingenuity to generate multiple sources of income for her family. In the process, she has emerged as a role model for women in her district.'
- Sujata Rout – a 34-year-old mother of two in the Balangir district of Odisha – is no stranger to struggle and strife. Soon after her 14th birthday, Sujata’s family terminated her education. At the age of 23, she was married off. Her husband, Dinabandhu, was a farmer who barely made ends meet, earning Rs 41,650 annually. His family owned 7.55 acres of rain-fed agricultural land. Of it, only 4.07 acres of undulating land was utilised to cultivate paddy.
- Soon enough, Sujata realised that it was impossible to feed a family of six with the money her husband earned, selling 49 quintals of paddy.
- Hope sprang in the gloom in 2013 – Reliance Foundation (RF) launched its Rural Transformation programme in Sujata’s village, Kalijharan. Attending the Village Association (VA) meetings hesitantly at first, Sujata soon found her voice and became an active participant. Gradually, the VA became an integral part of her life, helping her rejuvenate her fields through different land development activities, including land levelling and bunding. With RF support, she also received training on professional skills such as stitching and food processing, to expand her sources of income.
- Sujata’s work flourished. The produce from her farm shot up from 49 quintals of paddy to 89 quintals, fetching Rs 89,000 annually. By judiciously saving some of her earnings from her produce, she purchased a grinding machine to produce dry food such as vadi and papad. She started selling them through her acquaintances. With the VA helping her increase her sales through word-of-mouth, she was soon selling the edibles in her village and the district headquarters, raking in an additional Rs 3,000 every month. To further supplement her income, she purchased a sewing machine and started a professional tailoring service.
- Sujata went on to help her husband farm on an additional 0.80 acre plot that was lying unused, after it was made suitable for cultivation through techniques introduced to them through RF (such as land bunding and levelling). She also grows her own vegetables in an RNG (Reliance Nutrition Garden), set up in her backyard. Yields from the RNG has helped her cut down family expenses by Rs 250 per week.
- It took Sujata a little over two years to lead her family from poverty to self-reliance. She became an inspiration to scores of women in her village, as well as in the Balangir cluster. She has trained 20 girls from her village in tailoring – free of cost – and even sold their products, thereby helping them develop skills and supporting their livelihoods. She was recently hired as a trainer by the Nehru Yuva Kendra in Balangir, where she provided professional training in tailoring to 27 girls.
- A force behind several social events, Sujata recently played a major role in the Women’s Day celebrations in her village. With her support and savings, her husband, Dinabandhu, now runs a grocery shop and owns a tractor. In spite of her entrepreneurial commitments, she keeps a close watch on her daughter and son’s education. Dinabandhu says, “I pray that if I am ever born again, God should gift me Sujata as my life partner, for the second time. The contribution she has made to my life and family is priceless. I will always be grateful to her.”
- Not one to rest on her laurels, Sujata now aspires to build a house in Balangir. She will rent it out for some additional income which will be used to support her children’s education. She also plans to help more women in her village become self-reliant, by training them in tailoring and the manufacture of dry food.