Dantewada in Central India’s Chhattisgarh which is infamous for insurgency unleashed by Maoists has witnessed start of garment manufacturing at hands of tribals. The factory is situated in Geedam block of Dantewada, is first of its kind in India that engages tribal community at large scale that too in a Maoist hotbed. Once, the bedrock to insidious violence, Dantewada may witness a silver lining that could expel the darkness of violence ridden tag from the region.
329 kms south to Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, Dantewada for the first time is about to become an employment gateway for tribal community. The clothing brand of the factory is registered under the name DANNEX which means ‘Dantewada Next’.
The brand beyond producing readymade products also commits to tailoring services based on demand. The district administration owns the garment factory and has catered to signing Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED), National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), paramilitary forces along with brands from Bangalore and Hyderabad.
"The exacerbated life seems to get rescued by the garment factory. The socio-economic backwardness has an answer in form of employment" said Saraswati Mandavi. Haling to the tribal hinterland of Heer Naar village in Dantewada’s Geedam block, she used to stitch clothes of her community members without a definitive pay but the household skill would transform into an earning opportunity was an unanticipated event in her life.
A dedicated bus service for pick and drop makes her way easy. Saraswati’s family once neck deep in uncertain daily wages has now crossed the benchmark of Rs. 10,000 with her monthly salary of Rs. 7,000. Her family may take time to overcome the pending loans but the employment has evolved as a respite. Before coming on to the full-fledged work floor, she was trained for 45 days by officials which she considers a qualitative refurbishment of the skill.
19 year old Sunita never imagined that an automatic sewing machine would enter her household. Seeing her deep interest into sewing, the machine was handed over to her by the district administration. Her manual skill transformed into a mechanized act that is fetching Rs. 6,000 a month which earlier used to be only Rs. 1,500-1,800. Her studies got disrupted after her father’s untimely demise. She was elated to receive an order of sewing the uniforms of lady constables of the district police department. The products (shirts and kurti) that were send to cities like Bangalore and New Delhi has rejuvenated her morale and has imbued her with aspiration to progress further.
Ashamati in Ironing section.
The workforce is dominated by those from a poor socio-economic background. Villagers who seldom witnessed continuous electricity, furnished road and earning beyond forest terrains have now learned to challenge a dreadful fate. Hailing to the underprivileged community, Ashamati Netam leads her way in the ironing department of the factory. To be able to undertake this work, she was trained for 60 days. She presently irons hundreds of garments.
The inner set up of the factory involves different sections like laying, marking, stitching, fusing, trimming, ironing and packaging. The total working strength is 400 with women outnumbering men. A performance chart of work per hour has evolved an environment of healthy competition among workers said Lumesh Sahu, the floor manager of the factory.
The official detailed that,"the first slot of garments were made for District Reserve Group (DRG), the wing of state police, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and employees of National Mining Development Corporation (NMDC). All women employed in the factory belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category who were either skilled to an extent," Sahu further added.
As per official records, clothes worth Rs. 7.62 crore were sold. The month of July recorded the highest sale with 50,000 items worth Rs. 3 crore since April 1, 2021, after the factory started its production. In upcoming months more units are going to get established to undertake printing and embroidery work so that more youth and women can get opportunities of employment.
In conversation with the NewsClick ,Dantewada District Magistrate Deepak Soni ,said that the response and participation of tribals and specifically women is overwhelming. The subverted skill has ushered hope for a better livelihood. The project aims to make Dantewada a model of garment hub in the entire region with a target to provide employment opportunities to thousands of households. It will follow a cluster based approach by identifying them based on skilled and unskilled human resources in the district and install machines up to 100 per unit at the nearest available infrastructure. The district administration claims to share the profit that the factory makes, among its employees.
"The nondescript villages in Dantewada district whose identity nationwide was only as a hotbed for Maoists, until a few years ago is in respite due to the new garment factory. It has roped in employment stabilizing the dwindling finances of tribal households" said Raunak Shivhare a resident of Dantewada town.
Locals at large feel that the fear of violence is fading away since 2018 as Maoist intervention into villages of Geedam is no more a nightmare. After the establishment of the garment factory, there is scope for stable economic future which may help the populace pull out from the clutches of violence.