My story is inspired by an educational tour during my school years. The story dates back to 1959 when education and empowerment was a voice for the few. Men were bread earners while women stayed indoors. That year, one-day the dawn broke over a small town in Gujarat (western India) with colors of rainbow bright and clear. The day marked history of empowerment through sisterhood that started a lineage of change, a livelihood for many today. Lijjat, as commonly known was conceived by a group of 7 women who came together under a single roof to make and sell poppadoms (http://www.lijjat.com). A home venture then, Lijjat is a successful business model today that has turnaround the lives of many illiterate and poor women. Lijjat accounts for an all women establishment of 46000 across 62 branches in towns, cities and rural regions in India today.
As I unfold this story further, I remember the slums of Mumbai where life is a struggle day in and day out. Making ends meet is a challenge for most women. Lijjat has offered some of these women a regular income, thus evolving them from a state of needs to desires. Most Lijjat women today are their family’s bread earners and have been successful in providing education to children with better amenities and an improved quality of life. Lijjat’s distinctive feature of sisterhood is not based on employment but a lifetime sister membership where each woman is related to other irrespective of her religion or state boundary. A unit that started with 7 has liberated thousands of women from their shells over past decades. Mothers, wives and daughters work in unison for Lijjat and have proved to be an asset. They have collectively redefined women empowerment and contributed to India’s cottage industries development.
Lijjat is a savior for many poor women. It has made them independent, as also taught them to be interdependent. Some young Lijjat sisters today are educated and uphold managerial roles. Lijjat as yesterday’s concept is a belief today and a hope tomorrow. It has proved that poverty or illiteracy may be bottlenecks but it is our will to succeed that deems challenges as opportunities and not adversities. It has proved that women may be born with half the sky but their endurance is their continuing effort to evolve and exist. This endurance is their strength and capacity to embrace newer roles and to multitask, a lesson that everyone can be enterprising provided we open up to change.
Lijjat operates under an open management system where all sister members share equal rights. It embodies the values of mutual respect and bonding, a conviction that actually birthed Lijjat. Truly and deeply, Lijjat has contributed to the cause of enabling women to a free and fair expression. As I end now, I am unwrapping Lijjat snack bought from an Indian store while sitting thousand of miles away from India.
My write up Lijjat’s Lineage of Change that was posted in the New York Times Half the sky contest.
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Photo Courtesy: BBC