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Survivor Leaders Start Handicrafts Business

KARNATAKA, INDIA – Multi-colored silk thread earrings, oxidized silver and rhinestone studded earrings, stylish printed laptop sleeves and delicate tassels—these are a few of the latest creations by survivors of bonded labour under their new business, Udayonmukha Handicrafts.

Over the last two years, members of a growing survivor network called Udayonmukha in the state of Karnataka have been supporting one another, raising a unified voice in advocacy, and finding new ways to develop their community. On November 29, 2022, they launched Udayonmukha Handicrafts as a new way to work together and earn income through dignified work.

Members have rented out a small 500-square-foot room fitted with five sewing machines donated by a local organization. Typically, they get about 1-2 orders a month. During this time, members take turns coming to the Udayonmukha Handicrafts office to work. Aside from working here, they each continue to take up other daily wage jobs regularly.

Udayonmukha Handicrafts is jointly headed by Poornima and Thayamma. With help from IJM, they consistently seek to collaborate with civil society organization (CSOs) and government agencies for training and business opportunities. In the past, CSOs and government agencies have held skill development workshops for Udayonmukha members, training them in jewelry-making, bag-making, and tailoring.

Today, seven members craft a variety of products, including jewelry, festive buntings, kitchen towels, tote bags, laptop bags and sleeves, scented candles, festival decorations, pillows, cushion covers and more.

One of the recent orders was from the government department that monitors bonded labour cases, Rural Development and Panchayat Raj (RDPR). Officials ordered 250 laptop bags with Udayonmukha Handicrafts to encourage the survivors and celebrate their skills.

Profits from their products are divided among the members who worked on the order, with a small percentage also dedicated to supporting Udayonmukha members, which further aids in the rehabilitation and empowerment of survivors.

The President of Udayonmukha survivor network, Marappa explains, “Every month, we set aside some amount from the profits to cover emergency expenses. Recently, when a survivor passed away, we supported his family with provisions to last them a month. We used the profits earned from Udayonmukha Handicrafts to support his family. There was another man who met with an accident and broke his leg. Since he was not able to walk, we got all the rations needed for the family that month.”

Proud of their achievements in freedom, Poornima says, “It feels good that after all these years we are finally doing well.”

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Long-lasting Solution to Job Scarcity

Ventures like Udayonmukha Handicrafts empower survivors of bonded labour by providing them with skills, helping them start their own businesses, and achieve financial independence. Most survivors like them come from marginalized parts of the state where job opportunities are few or seasonal, so their skills are usually limited to farming, brick-making, and weaving and it becomes harder to build up a financial security. If they encounter an unexpected medical expense or funeral, they are left vulnerable and dependent on other business owners for job opportunities.

Udayonmukha Handicrafts helps break the cycle of dependence and vulnerability by empowering survivors to become confident entrepreneurs.

Yesupatham from IJM’s rehabilitation team says, “The hands that were once bound are now free to create; the mind that was once veiled has now unveiled to creative thinking. Each product our survivor has made, I perceive, has a feeling or an emotion sealed in it. To me, each product is immeasurable for the journey they have gone through.”

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“If we tried something else, it would not last long. Rearing animals would not last long either. That’s why we came up with this idea. If there is a sewing machine, and we get some training, we would be able to earn a living with it…. We could easily earn 1000 rupees (CA$16.43) a day.” shared Poornima. “I’m happy that now I’m able to provide employment to others. I feel like working hard and getting ahead in life. We must provide employment to other people.”

Udayonmukha’s President, Marappa has dreams of expansion “I want to grow and improve Udayonmukha Handicrafts business and use the profits to help government schools. That is my desire. I also want to set up tailoring units in more districts where Udayonmukha leaders are present. That way, whoever gets released from bonded labour or whoever has not been able to get a job for a while, can come and work in these tailoring unit.”

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