The SARAS Mela
The Saras Mela, a festival held annually and organized by the Ministry of Rural Development, Govt. of India, is an initiative to promote products of rural artisans from all over India. This year it was held from 6 to 18 September. In this Mela, the Vaazhndhu Kaattuvom Project (VKP), a wing of the Tamil Nadu Women Development Corporation, Government of Tamil Nadu (GoTN) participated and was allocated three stalls.
VKP’s Support to Rural Enterprises
The VKP is an initiative by GoTN with the support from World Bank, to promote the transformation of rural communities through skill training leading to better employment opportunities and access to finance.
The VKP provides many types of assistance to its beneficiaries. One of them is the start-up fund to encourage them to start production. The beneficiaries represented at the Mela had all received a start-up fund of Rs. 75,000 each and some had even received the Covid Assistance Packages to help them tide over their losses during Covid lockdowns.
VKP Beneficiary Participation
At this year’s SARAS Mela, VKP’s project beneficiaries from 22 districts displayed their products in three batches. During the first phase (6–10 September), beneficiaries from the districts of Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu, Trichy, Theni, The Nilgiris, Mayiladuthurai, Tiruvarur, Kallakurichi and Tiruvannamalai displayed their products. The products included honey, cardamom, pepper, Thoda embroidery materials, Kurumba paintings, Kora mats, terracotta dolls, Perambu baskets, LED bulbs, Pattai wire bags, washing powder, D’lite masala, traditional rice varieties and dried fish.
During the second phase (11–14 September), project beneficiaries from Cuddalore, Sivagangai, Krishnagiri, Nagapattinam, Pudukkottai, Nagapattinam, Ranipet and Vellore districts were present. In the third phase (September 15–18), beneficiaries came from Tiruppur, Karur, Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Virudhunagar and Sivagangai districts. For many, this was their first business exposure, after having just begun operating and earning an income.
One of the participants, the D’Lite Masala Enterprise Group from Kovalam, Chengalpattu district, displayed their range of masala products from September 15 to 18. The D’Lite Masala is a product from the Banyan, an NGO working for mentally challenged persons. This group of 12 differently-abled people produce idly powder, sesame powder, garlic powder and dal powder as products.
Caring for the Beneficiaries
Talking about the group, Ms Nandhinee, a project worker at Banyan said: “Normal people can easily find work. This group was started to give employment opportunities to the mentally challenged. All their products are sold at Thinai Café, a small coffee shop right outside the Banyan. In fact, when the Collector of the Chengalpattu district came to visit us, he insisted that we use only recyclable products for packaging.”.
Another project beneficiary from Valavadi SMS Oil Company from Pudumalaipatti, Tiruppur district displayed a range of herbal products including hair oils, pain oils and tooth powders. They had been in the business for around 20 years. However, in 2020, they faced a crunch in their business and availed of a loan of Rs. 1 lakh from VKP under the Covid Assistance Package. Padmavathy, one of the members of the group, said, “The fund from the VKP really helped us to restore our business.” She believes exhibitions like these really help promote the products of those from far-flung areas.
The group from Yemenakondam displayed their wares for the first time in such a large gathering. The members were extremely proud to be present and explain their products. Owing to the novel nature of their products, their sales boomed at the exhibition.
Similarly, members from other districts supported by the VKP displayed their products ranging from naturally processed oils, coconut craft products, shell craft products, clothing, canes & lantanas to beautifully crafted products of the tribal populations of The Nilgiris and many others.
Exhibitions & Exposure – A Remarkable Opportunity
One of the main takeaways from the Mela was that it provided a stage for newly supported enterprises to display their talents and make their work known to the public while providing an avenue for improving their income. The beneficiaries are grateful to the VKP and GoTN for getting this opportunity.