Star Entrepreneur of 2015: Manju
Manju, 44, was born into a poor family with five brothers and four sisters. She was good at studies up to 8th standard, but poverty forced her to quit and work in the agricultural field. She worked four years to help her brothers continue their studies. Since she was very diligent, she was selected for a 4-month tailoring training given by the Government. She needed to learn more and found a 6-month tailoring, embroidery, wire bag making program for young girls. She never thought her fine tailoring ability would be an asset for her life.
At 17, her parents forced her to marry Mr. Padmanaban, about whom they knew very little except that his family had three hectares of land, two big houses, and two plots of land for house construction. They asked no dowry, but gave Manju some dowry, including their sewing machine. She worked hard in the field and spent the rest of her time tailoring, which helped the family with additional income. Her husband was good to her but showed no interest in an intimate relationship and seemed rather ill. She discovered that his family members knew before the marriage that her husband suffered from blood cancer. Without their help, she paid for allopathic and traditional medical treatment, but he died after 12 years together.
Manju knew that widowhood is very dangerous. Her parents asked her to come back, but she stayed with her husband’s joint family. Her husband had given her the title to his plot of land. His married brother began harassing her sexually, verbally, and physically. The family then chased her out of the house. She understood that they wanted to possess the entire property, so she erected a small hut on the titled plot and lived separately. She had her sewing machine with which she stitched clothes to earn money. She also did agricultural work.
She still did not officially have the share of land from her husband’s family. Since, she was living alone, the brothers and men in the villages were harassing her at night by knocking on the door, reeling around drunk, and shouting abusive words. She lived in agony. When she decided to adopt a child, her husband’s family threatened to kill the child so it could not acquire her husband’s property.
While suffering these circumstances, she was observing that SHWET group members were coming together, helping each other and joining micro enterprise programs with the help of Prosperity Rings. She was eager to participate for the mutual support and for the security it would give her. After six months of working with staff members, SHWET gave her a loan to buy a second machine and start a tailoring school on the veranda of her house. Three girls initially joined, and now 17 girls are her students in different shifts. After school hours, she stitches blouses, chudithar, children’s dresses, etc. From her stitching and training fees, she earns Rs 16,000 month (Rs 67 =$1). With that income she installed electricity in her hut and constructed a toilet in the backyard. She also saves money in the bank.
Many women in the group admire the way she functions and take her guidance. Recently, she herself organized a group comprised of 15 members. She says, “Today I am recognized and happy, with no harassment from men in the villages because of Prosperity Rings.” She helps poor school children by giving them notebooks, educational material, and bags. She is determined to fight for her share of her property. With that share she is planning to help the poor with an ashram. She beams, “My family life had little meaning, but my life with the women’s association gave me hope to live a meaningful life.” One can understand why Manju was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by Prosperity Rings.