How does a poor women’s organisation reach a turnover of over one-and-a-half crores? Rishi Majumder investigates

Photographer: Rana Chakraborty

Navalkar at the co-operative (in green saree)

Welcome to a Lilliputian canteen sunk into a corner of S K Patil Park at Charni Road. Enter and you’re likely to bang your head against the ceiling or slip against a tokdi of potatoes, onions or chewda amidst the mayhem created by 30 odd women trying to cook. Order from outside and you’ll be given a choice of over 70 items – snacks and meals priced at a maximum of Rs 12.

This canteen is one of 10, spread from Nariman Point to Dadar, run as a cooperative by 120 women. ‘Cooperatives are all around,’ you’ll say. ‘Remember Lijjat?’ Kutumbsakhi was set up in 1977, after a survey of 500 households in the area
threw up the disturbing fact that lower middle-class women were often in as destitute a condition as slum dwellers. “They were too respectable to be house maids, and too illiterate to be office workers,” informs cooperative chairman Vandana Navalkar. Kutumbsakhi has turned an annual turnover of Rs 3,000 to a whopping rupees one crore eighty lakh figure. But what Navalkar admits, won them the Best Women’s Industrial Organisation Award is : “Our equity capital even today is a mere two lakhs.”
So what made them ‘work’? “Who knows? We just give good khaana and smiling service wearing a clean saree,” dismisses supervisor Vaishai Chinchankar. “Being women we know the secret recipes for every festival and can easily customise meals,” is Navalkar’s giggly confession. But she adds, “It’s the cooperative factor. Each woman owns one to ten shares. So no strikes.” Sushila Vasant Chauhan agrees while frying a puranpoli: “This is the clos
est I’ve come to home. Only money doesn’t keep over hundred women together for 20 years.” Appropriate. For Kutumbsakhi means ‘Family Friend’.

more co-operative products

sweet fruits of labour

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/v9pw


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