Bulandshahar, a predominantly agricultural district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is largely rural with over 46% of the population residing in the villages. The district has poor social indicators with an alarming sex ratio of 47% females to 53% males. The literacy rate for women is an abysmal 55.5% compared to 81% for males. Bulandshahar is an astonishing representation of the Indian patriarchal society.

In this context, meet our protagonist, Manju Devi.  A woman who has religiously lived her life based on the truth that constant change is inevitable but adapting to these changes is the key to making progress. And Manju Devi’s life has been a lot about having to constantly adapt, adjust and accept the crisis she has faced - be it financial distress, family feuds, loss of economic support or the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. After tackling many hardships in her life, and now in her forties, she made yet another change to become an Entrepreneur, and this time she believes, she has found her true calling! Her business Kumar Creation is raring to go.

Her Journey Begins

Manju had done a Certified Skill Course in Stitching after she completed her Class 12th, post which in a few years’ time, she was made to marry and henceforth moved to Delhi. She worked as a Tailor for the last 20 years in Delhi, supplementing the family income and garnering a loyal committed customer base. Then came children, two daughters and a son, but Manju Devi kept on.

Somewhere along the way, she decided to also train young girls and women in her community on stitching and tailoring. These tuition classes helped support her family financially. With the combined income of her husband, their house was running smoothly. And then came the pandemic!

Responding to Covid-19

Her husband lost his job during the pandemic, resulting in the family moving back to their village in Bulandshahar. Back here, she started to take tailoring orders. The only issue was that this small-scale business setup was not able to sustain her family’s needs considering she was the sole breadwinner.

A chance meeting with a community outreach worker in her village is where she heard about the Her & Now Project. The more she got to know about the support program, the more excited she got. She participated in the screening and selection process and the rounds of interviews and was confident that once selected, she would seek proper guidance and launch her own full-fledged business this time around. Her work experience tailoring, her initiative of starting a training school, dealing with customers, students, managing deadlines, orders, demands and handling money all these years convinced her that she was ready to make this happen! This time with formal support and guidance. Very soon Manju Devi was enrolled in Cohort 1, Batch 1, as Candidate Number 9, for the Her&Now Support Programme implemented by Empower Foundation in UP. A total of 80 women entrepreneurs are part of the first cohort, and another 80 in the second cohort, ranging from Bulandshahar to Moradabad to Saharanpur and Hapur.

Accessing Support

Through the program, she learned to ideate, create a business plan, conduct market research, and have a clear vision. It instilled in her the belief that her business has the potential to grow beyond her imagination. It transformed Manju Devi as a person too, boosting her self esteem and confidence. Her mentor, Dr. Sunita Chugh, says “at the inception of the program, Manju had a more tentative personality but through sessions and the training, she has become more assertive and self-assured”.

Leading Kumar Creation

Through active support, Manju Devi saw the potential of online selling. She conducted prior research and registered herself in Flipkart as a seller. Her enterprise Kumar Creation sells products like Roti Flap Covers and Costumes for Lord Krishna idols.  She became one of the first women entrepreneurs from the first cohort to create a digital presence at a national level through an e-commerce platform. 

Manju Devi’s grit, determination and will to learn, coupled with the support she received from the programme, is what makes her story special. Today, she has a business GST number registered on the Udyam portal, and has recently secured a loan of INR 2 Lakhs, to open a shop in her home town in Bulandshahr city.  Currently, she is the talk of her village, and a role model to many other women in the region!  Today, she is the one providing financial and emotional support to the entire family.

Kumar Creation’s first year revenue planned is about INR 3 Lakhs. That’s a 5x increase from last year. By next year, they plan to reach INR 5 Lakhs.

Manju Devi’s story is all about the age-old adage, “where there is a will there is a way”. But many a time, will alone is not enough. It is persistence, hard work and guidance that makes thoughts become things. As we continue this series, you will meet many other women from various districts in Uttar Pradesh that are fighting many odds to pursue their entrepreneurship dream, and marching on. She is a true inspiration to every woman in this country who feels that their capabilities are limited due to the restrictive societal norms. To this, she says,

Women are no less than any man. Once we set our mind to something, we put in everything we have in achieving it. We, as women, just need to get rid of our self-doubt and GO FOR IT.”

Buy Kumar Creation’s products here.

Author profile – Madhuparna Ghosh

Madhuparna Ghosh is the Coordinator for Communication and Fund-raising in Empower Foundation. With a background in social work, her experiences in working with different communities from varied parts of India and also working for partnerships and collaborations with other stakeholders of the development society to benefit these communities, has helped her in understanding the underlying social issues which are disseminated in our society. These experiences have strengthened her vision on how it can be resolved, and has motivated her to work towards sustainable entrepreneurship models, especially for women, as she believes that women are the building blocks towards a sustainable socio-economically developed society.