On Women’s Day, these entrepreneurs share their stories of courage and gratitude a- The New Indian Express
Express news service
CHENNAI: Azhadhe, Chandra. We are in the same boat, ”says Chandira Isakivel, 48, consoling a tearful Chandra Mani as she remembers her past or her agreements. Both small entrepreneurs, the duo have been part of the Working Women’s Forum and the Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) for decades. Lakshmi Narayanaswamy, in her sixties, joins her. She takes a deep breath and puts her hand around Chandra. Exhaling maternal warmth, she said: “Naanga pakadhe kashtam illa.
But, we came out stronger every time. During times of distress all we needed was a little support and we got it by accident through ICNW. We (the women of the group) are now there not only for each other, but also for those beyond the group who are on a similar path. We never let anyone down or feel helpless. Isn’t that brotherhood? asks the inhabitant of TP Chatram, Kilpauk.
Within minutes, the women defuse the gloomy air, begin to pull their legs, engage in jokes, and burst out laughing. As their unbridled snickers fill the Forum auditorium, Chandra, now smiling, says, “It’s a slice of our life. A mixture of both good and bad times. We are proud of how far we have come. The 50-year-old has run a Xerox photo-laminating store near the RTO office in Puliyanthoppu for more than two decades.
“Being a woman entrepreneur has not been an easy journey. On a daily basis, I have to deal with people from all walks of life. Some come into the store with bad intentions and just to disrupt your day, just because of your gender. But I face them head-on, ”says Chandra, who was barely 18 when she married and moved from Cheyyur to Chennai.
“Fitting in with a common family of 13 and working day and night to take care of them was difficult. When my husband’s income was not enough to take care of our four children, I decided to become a day laborer at a local Xerox store. In 1989, I heard about this Forum and took out a loan of Rs 400. I first bought a used Xerox machine, then I rented a store to start my own business. Now all of my children are not only well educated, but also good human beings. They help anyone in need; that should be its intrinsic nature. No one should suffer like we have.
Win in life
Chandra, Chandira and Lakshmi were recently honored by the Working Women’s Forum and the ICNW as “COVID-19 Warriors and Heroines” in recognition of their persistence in successfully continuing their entrepreneurial efforts even in the midst of the pandemic. “It was recognition of our resilience. I have never received an award in my life and it made me so happy. My children were very proud of me. Idhu podhum enaku, ”said Lakshmi, who after her husband died had to look after her five children.
“I got married when I was 15. My husband was an alcoholic and life was tough. After he passed away, to make ends meet, I started an idli business. Five years after running the store getting high interest loans from private lenders, I discovered ICNW. I took out a loan of 200 euros from them and my life has changed since. I expanded my old business and started a new saree business, got my education, married all my kids, and got my own home too, ”she beams.
Today, Lakshmi spends his days running the business while finding ways to relax. “I have never entered a school. It was only after I arrived at ICNW that I learned to sign my name. I felt empowered. Likewise, over time, I also realized the importance of taking care of yourself. It is not enough if you continue to work hard, but you must also know how to reap the benefits. I spend my free time watching television; the National Geographic channel is one of my favorites! I like to listen to the songs of MGR and SP Balasubrahmanyam ”, she smiles and starts to sing, Kannai nambaadhae, Unnai yemaatrum of Ninaithadhai Mudippavan.
“In my life I have been financially cheated by a lot and have learned not to trust people immediately. However, when I’m here with my sisters, I know I’m safe and protected, ”she smiles at Chandra and Chandira. Chandira nods in agreement. When the mother of five moved to Chennai from Thirunelveli in the 2000s, she was subjected to harassment. “The owners refused to rent us accommodation because we had five children. When I shared my dream of providing a good education for my children, I was mocked and asked to send them to paid day jobs.
During such times I felt lost, ”she recalls. But, that was until she came under the wing of ICNW. “With a loan of 2,500 rupees, I started a sari business. This coupled with my husband’s income, I educated all my children. They are all happy now. What is success and fulfillment without happiness? After witnessing a lack of first-hand empathy, I step in if there is a problem for someone in our area. Several civic issues were resolved in the locality thanks to my intervention. I not only became financially independent, but I also developed the strength to help others, ”she smiles.
Living the dream
The entrepreneurship and intervention of such cooperatives has, over the years, empowered women and the work of ICNW has, in many ways, redefined democratic processes and has been a platform for reimagining gender relations in society. The trio, who over decades have put their family’s well-being first, are now on their way to finding ways to live through the wasted years battling abusive relationships, financial crashes and sexist hierarchies. .
“I wanted to become a police officer. But I only studied up to grade 10. Although I can’t be now, I want to spend my life working for the well-being of people, ”Chandira shares. Lakshmi, who has never had the opportunity to go to school, hopes to enroll in a higher education program. “My eyesight deteriorated over time. If my health permits, I would love to study, ”she says.
Ask Chandra what her aspirations are and she quickly responds, “Treat my future daughter-in-law like my daughter.” It may sound simple, but women’s empowerment and feminism starts with us. It is only when you treat your women as equal that it will spread in society. I want to fill her with love, care and respect that I did not receive in my formative years. I want my actions to be a new dawn for the next generation of women.