Basanti, a resident of Chayanpurva village, filling the Diwali diyas with wax. The initiative organisers also hope to introduce beekeeping as a source of revenue for the villagers.
Chayanpurva village, some 60 kilometres from Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, is home to the Scheduled Caste (SC) Kevat community. Over the years, the community and the village have become associated with bootlegging. The reason: families here have been producing illicit liquor for generations, to make ends meet.
Case in point: Ramkali, late 20s, mother of three.
“Last Diwali, my husband was jailed for three days when he was caught by the police for selling liquor in a market nearby,” Ramkali said.
COVID-19 pandemic-induced unemployment and lack of an education or skills to do much else had once again pushed Ramkali and her husband towards making hooch, a trade their family have taken up generation after generation - at great risk - to support themselves.
Around the same time, the Barabanki district administration, with the help of a non-profit organisation, launched a programme to help the villagers earn a livelihood by making diyas (earthen lamps). Ramkali signed up; she now makes Rs 100 a day.
Of course, Ramkali is just one of hundreds of people in the village mired in poverty and held back by their dependence on spurious liquor. Arvind Chaturvedi, Superintendent of Police, Barabanki, said Chayanpurva village has been infamous for its hooch racket for the last two decades. The new training programme is Chaturvedi’s brainchild, to create an alternative source of income for the Kevat community of Chayanpurva.
Chaturvedi added that several people from the village have lost their lives to hooch and many of them have become handicapped, so it was important to bring them into the mainstream. They are earning money and leading respectful lives presently, he said.
Around 12,000 people have died across India because of illicit liquor in the last ten years, as per a 2019 ABP Live news report. In May 2019, PTI reported that 15 people had died from consuming spurious alcohol in Raniganj, a village neighbouring Chayanpurva.New lease of life
For Ramkali, who only goes by her first name, this is the first time that she is engaged in a trade other than preparing hooch to earn money. Ramkali explained that the family always wanted to sever ties with spurious liquor because of the risks involved, but have only now managed to leave the trade behind.
One woman from each of the 98 families of Chayanpurva is now engaged in making wax diyas.
The job change has had a positive impact on other areas of her life too.
“Jab galat kaam karte the na tab police ko dekh kar bhaagte the lekin ab police ke saath baith kar baat kar lete hai ham log (Earlier we used to run from police as we engaged in illegal trade, but now we sit and converse with them),” Ramkali said.
Like Ramkali, Basanti, 29, who also goes by her first name and is a resident of Chayanpurva, works alongside six other women of the village to make diyas. Basanti prepared hooch for three years after her marriage. Now, she said, she earns about Rs 150 per day from selling diyas and recently received a payment of Rs 2,600.
The work of diya-making in the village is being supervised by non-profit Makkhiwala, which is providing wax and other raw materials to these women and is responsible for its marketing.
The women make Rs 1.50 per diya.
Nimit Kumar Singh, director of Makkhiwala, said that they wanted the locals to start beekeeping as it’s a profitable business and requires minimum effort at first. However, as Diwali was nearing and the women residents were in dire need of money, they decided to make diyas.
Singh explained that for the programme, they have hired one woman from each family in the village. Each woman from the 98 families in the village is paid Rs 1.50 per diya and they have manufactured over 2.2 lakh diyas, he added. According to Singh, the production cost for one diya is around Rs 5, and the selling price, Rs 5.50 per piece. The target is to sell 5 lakh diyas by Diwali.
Diwali may seem a long way off, but these tiny parcels of light are bringing hope and happiness to families in Chayanpurva already.
Elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh, inmates of the Mathura jail and others are making cow dung diyas, in an effort to make Diwali more eco-friendly.
Speaking to the media, Lucknow municipal commissioner Ajay Dwivedi said that the step to make and sell cow-dung diyas is being taken to promote an eco-friendly festival and it would also bring in money.
The Lucknow administration has begun selling the cow-dung diyas through the ‘Lucknow One’ application, which is used to solve sanitation and water problems.