At the ripe age of 57 years, Monowara Begum takes the youthful leap of entrepreneurship

By auther pic. CSRBOX

November 20, 2019

At the ripe age of 57 years, Monowara Begum takes the youthful leap of entrepreneurship

Monowara in her pond

In was more than half a century back that Monowara Begum was born. Back then, Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister of India and Bangladesh was still a part of Pakistan!


Monowara’s mother had died early. By the time she was 13 years, this eldest of 6 siblings, moved from her village in Nagaon district to new place in Kamrup district of Assam as a new bride. The Bhumalahati village has been her home since then.


An old picture,black and white, from yesteryears is dear to her. It was early days of her marriage and the entire joint family had visited a photo-studio. The family was doing well back then but had later fallen to difficult times.


Monowara, sitting on extreme left


Bhumalahati village is inhabitated by the members of the Assamese Muslim community. There are 176 households in this village with most people engaged in agriculture and petty trade. The average land holding is about 1.5 acres per family. This village is, again, one of the many examples of coexistence ofpredominant rural pockets in the midst of rapid urbanization. Located just about an hour from the city of Guwahati, some of the benefits of being near a big city have also trickled down here: the connectivity is very decent and many houses are now semi-pucca. Many men find work in Guwahati and adjacent area at construction sites and service industry. Yet in the middle of this change, women still find themselves unable to get a foothold in a rapidly expanding economy. And in a village like Bhumalahati, where women havevery little literacy, resources (no woman in this village has any landholding in their own name) and religious-social restrictions, the struggle becomes more complex. And when one is past her prime, the struggle becomes a tall societal mountain to scale.


In this framework of constant socio-economic flux, Self Help Groups (SHGs) have become vital to support women in villages like Bhumalahati. When NGO Seven Sisters Development Assistance (SeSTA), began working in this village in the year 2017 under an ITC project, women would meet every week to save Rs 20 per member. This common pool of saving was soon fortified by a revolving fund of Rs 25,000 from a local bank to each group. Women started using this amount to invest or intensify their livelihoods baskets. In this village, of the 9 SHGs supported by SeSTA covering 108 households, 31 women are engaged in micro-enterprise promotion. These micro-enterprises range from poultry to setting up small shops. Overall, SeSTA works with 3,100 women farmers in Kamrup district and with more than 30,200 across the Northeast in 457 villages.


The one that, of course stands out, is that of Monowara Begam! While she has been actively associated with the many government promoted Self Help Groups (SHGs) programs in the last two decades, it is in the last two years, at a ripe age nearing 60 years that her entrepreneurial spirit has really taken off.


Thin and petite with an exuberant voice, duck rearing has truly changed her life. She was rearing ducks on a small scale but with some technical training and visioning exercise, her imagination began to soar. She took a loan of Rs 5,000 from her group to build concrete shed for her ducks and purchased 25 ducklings. Within six months, she made a neat deal of Rs 9,600 selling 15 large ducks.  The ducks have multiplied and now she also sells eggs. As the flock has grown, she now sells one or two ducks every week.


Monowara in front of her duck shed


“I want to be the biggest duck farmer in Kamrup district”, she says with a grin.

“I want to have a flock of more than 100 ducks.”

An enterprising woman, she also uses her skills to knit from torn clothes and rags. The quilts in her house are all self-made!

Knitting for the winters


“ Just like young people, I am not afraid of doing business. I will show every woman in this village that if we work hard, we can achieve anything”

“And who says I am old? I am a new haahbepari(duck seller)”, she laughs.


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