Walking out of an abusive marriage, this woman entrepreneur from Satara started a bakery business
Leaving an abusive relationship is hard for many reasons. But it is harder for women from the marginalised sections of society. Money is one of the most common reasons domestic abuse victims struggle to leave their violent partners. They have to start over financially as their abusive partner may have prevented them from earning a living.
Nearly one-third of Indian women experience physical or sexual violence, according to a report by the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5). While domestic violence against women has declined from 31.2 percent to 29.3 percent in the country, nearly 30 percent of women aged between 18 and 49 have experienced physical violence, the report further stated.
What is startling, however, is that of the 30 percent, only 14 percent of women could muster the courage to report the violence against them.
Despite never having worked, Sarwat Gulamkar Baghwan of Satara, Maharashtra decided to take that first step.
In the early 2000s, Sarwat walked out of an abusive relationship, and now, she is the proud owner of a thriving bakery business, Mariya Bakers and Foods, in Satara, Maharashtra.
“After my marriage, things did not turn out as I had expected. When I had a daughter, matters got even worse, and I decided to return to my parents’ house. But I had no money or savings to bring her up, and I felt stuck as to what to do,” Sarwat tells HerStory.
The early days
Struggling because of her underprivileged background, Sarwat decided to make a start by helping her father in his food business, delivering homemade food to different stores.
However, when her father suffered a heart attack, the business came to a standstill, and it was back to square one for Sarwat.
During this difficult moment, Sarwat’s maternal uncle—who ran a bakery business—stepped in and encouraged her to upskill herself to start her own business.
“My uncle gave me a new perspective. He said that while my parents always sold products made by other people, I could make my own food products and sell them. That way, I would earn more. This excited me,” reveals Sarwat, who quickly learnt how to make nankhatai, also known as the traditional Indian shortbread biskoot!
The initial days were hard, and Sarwat admits getting the perfect nankhatai took her time and weeks of practice.
“Sometimes I used to forget the soda, sometimes the sugar! I overcooked them quite a few times, and all this led to monetary loss for me as I had to keep buying the raw ingredients. But I never once lost hope, and I knew that with practice, I would become good at it,” recalls Sarwat.
After taking small loans from different financiers to build her bakery, Sarwat launched Mariya Bakers and Foods in 2004. She says it took time for her to develop her bakery kitchen, but she made sure to reinvest the profits from peak seasons to buy a brand new oven, atta kneader, and a chopper.
“These machines have helped me save time and improved efficiency,” she says.
Although Mariya Bakers and Foods sells various kinds of cookies, rusks, biscuits, puffs, and other bakery items, the bakery’s piece de resistance is its nankhatai, which it makes nearly 15-20 kg daily.
The nankhatai, she says, is a favourite among the locals who buy it for their loved ones living abroad.
Becoming an expert
From struggling to make cookies, Sarwat is now an expert baker who enjoys the art of baking cakes.
Now, Mariya Bakers sells over 20 products, and according to its proud owner, the bakery earns a little over Rs 1 lakh per month on average. Sarwat has employed five other women, and while her journey has not been smooth, she says it has been worth it.
Sarwat’s entrepreneurial journey was helped along by the Mann Deshi Foundation and GIZ’ Her&Now project. The organisations helped her procure MSME and FSSAI licenses. They also trained her in operating a business account on Facebook and the basics of starting an online business.
Four years ago, Sarwat’s profits from her business helped her renovate her bakery, but now, she plans to convert her bakery into a café selling fast food.
“I have a lot of plans for the future, and I want to make Mariya Bakers a brand to reckon with,” she says.
Sarwat’s daughter, now 19, is studying to become a Homeopathic doctor. For Sarwat, who was abhorred for giving birth to a girl child, walking out of that unacceptable situation turned out to be the first step to reclaiming her life, and that of her daughter.
(This story has been updated to correct a typo)
Edited by Suman Singh