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Tribal women in Attapady fight odds to make umbrellas

Wednesday, Jun 7, 2017,15:57 IST By anju A A A

Thiruvananthapuram | They may be reeling under scorching summer heat in this rain-shadow region.

But, fighting all odds to empower themselves, a group of tribal women in Attappady, the most backward tribal hamlets in Kerala, is busy making umbrellas for city dwellers.

Quality umbrellas of multi-colour and designs, made by around 60 women from various settlements in the region notorious for infant deaths due to malnutrition, and other health issues, are on high demand in the local market.

Tilted ‘Karthumbi,’ the Attappady-brand umbrellas have many high-profile takers including IT hubs, Technopark and Infopark, Kochi Metro Rail Corporation, Cochin University and a number of schools and colleges across the state.

These colourful umbrellas, born in remote settlements, are now not only ensuring financial security to these poverty-stricken women and their families, but also helping them empower themselves.

‘Thambu,’ a tribal voluntary outfit, has launched the initiative to help the tribal folk make a livelihood of their own.

The outfit not only has imparted training for the women in umbrella-making, but also helped them market the product outside their settlements.

Though the project was started on an experimental basis last year with a modest production, now they were finding it difficult to meet the overflowing demands, President of ‘Thambu’, Rajendra Prasad said.

“Around 60 women belonging to various settlements are making umbrellas under the initiative.. Women jointly make umbrellas at the community halls in their respective settlements,” Prasad told PTI.

The local marketing of the product is also done by tribal youths, which helps them earn income of their own, he said.

“The initiative is not just to ensure income for the tribal folk but to empower them and instill self confidence and pride in their minds and to make them feel that they are not marginalised but very much part of the mainstream society,” he added.

Though fund crunch was a major hurdle in the initial days, well wishers have helped the outfit collect interest-free loans from individuals to meet the production cost.

“We have collected a total of Rs 6.60 lakh with the support of our well wishers.. Now, the state Scheduled Tribes Department has allotted Rs 16 lakh for making 10,000 umbrellas,” Prasad noted.

A total of 1212 umbrellas, ordered by Technopark here, have already been supplied.

The black colour ‘Karthumbi’ umbrella costs Rs 350, while the colourful one (12 different shades are available) are priced Rs 360.

Printed umbrellas are charged Rs 370 while those with frilled ones are priced at Rs 390.

Women, belonging to the age group of 20-40, are involved in umbrella making under the initiative.

They are working as five units, comprising 12 members each.

“A woman makes an average of 10-15 umbrellas daily.

For each umbrella, they get Rs 50 as production charge.. Rs 50 is given for those who market the product.

That means, the tribals get Rs 100 for each umbrella,” he said.

The salary is credited to their bank account weekly.

A tribal woman earns over Rs 3000 every week through umbrella making, he said.

“All those who are involved in the project have their own bank accounts.. The crediting of the salary in banks will not only ensure transparency but also make them aware about the bank dealings,” he said.

Peace Collective, a social media group, has helped ‘Thambu’ for promotion and online marketing of the tribal brand.

On plans to come up with more products to ensure steady income for tribal families, Prasad said, “Umbrellas have only seasonal market.. Its demand comes only during rainy season. So, we are seriously thinking about other projects like branding of ethnic products of tribals.”

Attappady, located in the north eastern side of Palakkad, comprises 192 tribal hamlets.

Majority of local inhabitants, mostly belonging to Muduga, Irula, Kurumba and other such tribal groups, have depended on forest produce for a living, till recent times.