Empowering the socially excluded
February 2010; The 'Agricultural and Professional Tools Producing Factory' lead by Raju Biswakarma, 28, in Tukuche, Kavrepalanchowk is earning anywhere between Rs 120,000 - Rs 200,000 a month.
The factory produces agricultural and other metal items used for windows and doors which are sold in Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. The factory runs from 7am in the morning to 8pm at night. Each of the 14 members is earning Rs. 9000 per month.
By tradition, Biswakarmas (blacksmiths) are metal workers. They are considered 'dalits' and 'untouchables'' a socially excluded group in the society. Despite the political movements and the changes in the law, which prohibits discrimination based on caste, the practice still continues in the country.
These factory workers were already skilled in metal works as their ancestors have done it for generations but they lacked the resources to set up a factory and proper training to market the products.
In 2005 when UNDP Micro-enterprise Development Programme (MEDEP) was introduced in the district, Raju and his community who had formed an organisation called 'Guru Ganesh Community Forestry User Group' seized the opportunity.
MEDEP provided them a seven days long training on entrepreneurship. After this trainingthere was no looking back. A team of 14 built a small shed overnight on a small piece of land owned by Raju. As part of the programme, MEDEP taught them how to request for loan and also supported them to buy a machine, which helps them to produce fine agricultural tools in a short span of time.
By assisting the 'Biswokarmas', MEDEP has empowered the 'excluded community' to work as independent entrepreneurs. Traditionally they had been making items based on demand of upper castes in exchange for 3-4 kgs of rice person per year- a practice known as baali.
As the lowest in the social hierarchy, the Biswakarmas never got the opportunity to be trained, educated or earn money. They just followed the tradition for minimal income and lived in poverty. Raju quit school in 8th grade to help his father and brothers earn extra income so that his ill mother could get some treatment.
There are 43 Biswakarma families in this Brahmin and Chettri dominated village with a total of 243 households.
Thanks to the increased revenues, the Biswokarmas have a modern toilet in each house. The group is now planning to upgrade their factory' from a bamboo shed to a bigger hall with a tin roof.
There is a continuous stream of orders placed for different items so they are not short of work. Raju says, "We are still not allowed to enter the houses of Brahmins and Chettris but we no longer go to them asking for work; if they want our services they come here to the factory, pay in cash and only then get what they need.'