What would a group of women from a village called Bhimanakone in Shimoga district of Karnataka do for a living? Probably help their husbands with farming, look after children and curse their poverty. It would have been so but for Kavi Kavya trust.
They had set up a weaving center on an experimental basis, in order to prove that handloom weaving can be viable and profitable on the Western Ghats region. Traditionally cotton cloth and woolen blankets were brought from the plains and sold here and there was no weaver community in the region. In september 1996, Kavi-Kavya Trust handed over the entire infrastructure thus developed, to the women workers (30 at that time) and the Charaka Society was registered.
The society is currently growing at a phenomenal rate of 25 per cent per year. Their workers, who are their own paymasters, draw a decent wage. They give themselves a small bonus every year, eat subsidised food, have health insurance and take home loans. They have a library and a cultural troupe.
For all this, Charaka is not using any kind of donations, either foreign or Indian. Even the occasional government grant that Charaka gets – as part of the rural development initiative – is less than 5 per cent of its turnover. Charaka is sustained through its own profits. Given the bleak scenario that exists in rural India, especially amongst handloom workers this is no mean achievement.
In an effort to provide job opportunities to more people, Charaka has de-centralised its processes. People get trained in Charaka on various processes and then they set up their own units in the comfort of their homes.
Besides this, Charaka operates 4 tailoring units, 1 Khowdi (quilt) unit, 1 kids wear unit and 5 weaving units in different nearby villages. An exclusive natural dye unit that specialises in Kasimkari (black) is at Atwadi. Charaka also outsources weaving to different self help groups, organisations and individual weavers outside the district.
Charaka enjoys a big advantage by owning a chain of retail stores in various cities in Karnataka. These stores are run by a Bangalore based trust called DESI in which Charaka has a controlling hold. Because of these retail stores, Charaka is able to sell its products to a foreign clientele as well. DESI has been a successful model in connecting the rural with the urban. Popular now as a brand, it has also become a lifestyle statement. There are three stores in Bangalore and some more are in the pipeline. Other cities like Dharwad, Mysore and, Shimoga also have a DESI store.
The success story of Charaka is really an inspiration for all women who want to be independent. This model also reflects that the rural parts in India can become self-sustainable by benefitting from the opportunities that exist in their nearby cities.