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ALEEYAH: A 17-year old girl’s STEP to transform rural life of Bengal

The Delhi-based initiative has successfully completed two cycles of bringing crafts for sale and is set for Round 3 in the summer of 2016.

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Rural Children. Image Source: Aleeyah
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Delhi: Starting from a STEP Youth Leadership Program by TERI University to creating a social initiative and then transforming it into a ‘Social Entrepreneurship’; the student run and organised enterprise ALEEYAH has come a long way. In an exclusive interview with NewsGram by Divyia at Delhi, the 17-year-old founder, Diya Kundu shares her idea about the initiative that transformed so many lives.

Aleeyah was launched last year in May 2015 in an attempt to improve the conditions of the Golabari Village in Changmari district of West Bengal. As they say, ‘Charity begins at home’, Diya decided to start the initiative from her hometown itself.

Divya Kundu. Image source: ALEEYAH
Divya Kundu. Image source: ALEEYAH

As a part of the initiative, severely underpaid artisans and craftsman in the rural Bengal are offered a month-long job terms where they create handicrafts using natural raw materials. The handicrafts are then brought to Delhi, where they are polished and then sold at a good price. The proceedings are then reinvested in the village, with 25% going towards the artisans and the remaining 75% are used for overall village welfare.

Since its inception, among many of Aleeyah’s achievements- it has provided light bulbs for homes, repaired leaks on the roofs of various houses, supplied raincoats for farm labourers, given each household a safety-kit and identified and deployed volunteers to provide adolescents with knitting and weaving skills.

Handicraft items made by the rural people of West Bengal. Image source: Aleeyah
Handicraft items made by the rural people of West Bengal. Image source: Aleeyah

The response from the village has been positive, describes Kundu. “There was a time in the beginning when I wasn’t really taken very seriously because I’m really small and everything I understand but then when I got these really small ideas that worked well for them so when I got a camera and started recording everything then they got really excited,” she says.

Apart from Kundu, the enterprise includes two other project heads, along with an Arts division to add finishing touches to the handicrafts and a Social Media division that looks after marketing and brand promotion. Currently, all the participants are students of Delhi Public School Vasant Kunj guided by their French teacher Ms Adita Saxena.

rural people with handmade items. Image source: Aleeyah
Rural people with handmade items. Image source: Aleeyah

The school plays a prominent role in the functioning of Aleeyah as the Arts division completes their work within the school and a considerable amount of the sales are also conducted through fairs in the school premises. Sales also take place in the form of small handicraft fairs in the nearby localities.

Kundu says, the most unexpected aspect of managing an entrepreneurship comes from a young student of Commerce stream from DPS Vasant Kunj and the fact that how important communication is for the smooth functioning of an enterprise.

The Delhi-based initiative has successfully completed two cycles of bringing crafts for sale and is set for Round 3 in the summer of 2016.

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  • Pritam Go Green

    We nee more and more transformations in our society like these. Not only in West Bengal, in other poorer states also like Bihar, Orissa etc

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

farmers
Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)