Against all odds: How this tribal woman from Jharkhand is supporting her family by running a micro-business

Cristina Herenj, a 25-year-old from Khunti, Jharkhand, is now taking to running a small vegetable business and is the main breadwinner of her family.
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In Jharkhand, there is a quaint little village called Patrayur, situated about 13 kilometres away from Torpa block, Khunti district. About 230 families live in the hamlet who mainly rely on agriculture for their livelihood.

While Hindi is one of the main languages of the populace, they also speak Sadri, a language native to Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha, as well as Mundari, which is specific to the Munda and Bhumij tribes native to Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal.

The villages surrounding Patrayur flourish with agricultural activities and are known for growing quality produce, including cauliflower, cabbage, pumpkin, green beans, etc. But while agriculture is one of the main sources of livelihood, some women are also engaged in small and micro-businesses to meet their household requirements.

Among them is 25-year-old Cristina Herenj, a woman of the Munda tribe who lives in a joint family of 10 with her children and her husband, Deepak Topno. While caring for the children, she also had to find another source of income to make ends meet.

Running a micro-business

“The four women in my family joined hands and decided to start a small eatery in the local market in Patrayur. We did this for around two days a week. But after the business took off, we rented a room in the Mahadev Toli,” Cristina tells SocialStory.

The women expanded their business into a small hotel, which also offered groceries as well as other essentials. She is also part of an SHG called Ujala through which she was trained in entrepreneurship development and micro-business skill training, a course conducted by the Torpa Rural Development Society for Women (TRDSW) and the EdelGive Foundation.

This helped her manage the finances better and sustain the business. The women became the four main earning members of their families, and the business ran successfully for a couple of months.

Cristina Herenj on her scooter.

However, in 2020, like most others who depended on the influx of customers, the pandemic struck and took a toll on their venture.

Like in the urban sectors, the pandemic also affected the remote villages of the tribal community of Torpa and Rania blocks. Because of the life-threatening impact of COVID-19, the village had to adhere to government guidelines and follow the lockdown protocols. As a result, the lockdown forced Cristina’s micro-business to shut down, which, in turn, meant that her family’s financial situation also took a hit.

“I have to ensure that everything in the household runs smoothly as I am bringing in income every month. I knew I had to find another source of income despite the lockdown, since I also look after all the family members,” Cristina says.

Not giving up

The lockdown took a toll on the family, and they found it very hard to make ends meet. They just managed to survive thanks to the support of the Ujala SHG, Edelgive Foundation, and TRSDW, but had no proper income of their own.

Even once the lockdown partially lifted, their business couldn’t pick up. But Cristina didn’t give up because she still bore the responsibility of her family. She was determined to start another micro-business so that she could earn.

So, with the help of TRSDW, she identified that the vegetable production in the surrounding villages was high. Cristina used this opportunity to not only help these farmers to sell their produce but also earn some money herself.

But due to the pandemic, they ran out of money and didn’t have enough to start the business.

Cristina awarded by Pramukh Torpa Block on Mahila Divas event at TRDSW

“I received the support of my SHG with a sum of Rs 3,000, which helped me start the business. I was able to get my first supply of vegetables from nearby villages,” she says.

Initially, she sold the vegetables at the Torpa market between 8 AM and 11 AM, as per the government guidelines for the operation of essential commodities. After the lockdown was relaxed, she rode through the villages on her scooter to sell the remaining vegetables at the Jalthanda market on Wednesdays, Dorma market on Fridays, and Jamar market on Sundays and Thursdays.

Every day, by selling the vegetables, Cristina made about Rs 500-600 and earned roughly about Rs 15,000 a month, with which she could support her family, while earlier the family would barely break even.

Gender equality

Deepak, Cristina’s husband, is one of the farmers working in the village. When Cristina found it hard to handle the vegetable business and household work, Deepak pitched in to support her and the family.

She says, “My husband is very supportive and helps me with the household chores. We divide all the work that needs to be done.”

In fact, in almost every tribal household where its members go out for work, the housework is divided so that there is no pressure on one single demographic,

The way forward

When asked about some of the hurdles along the way, Cristina says that she hasn’t found a major challenge. In fact, “I take pride in my work; I work very hard to ensure that the quality I sell is good and I can keep growing my customer base. The only thing is the COVID-19 pandemic, which had posed an issue amid the lockdown,” she says.

While Cristina is now able to take care of the family, her business has also become the major source of family income. She earns a lot more than the family used to before the lockdown.

However, she doesn’t want to stop. She now wishes to inspire more women to come forward to start their own businesses.

“I will continue to build my business step by step, and work with the women and girls in my area to highlight the benefits of having a business. I also would like to have my shop someday,” she says.
Edited by Kanishk Singh

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