Women entrepreneurs give tourism a boost in MP


Guest Blog

women are changing the tourism scene in Madhya Pradesh

by Santosh Ojha


MPAs guides, cabbies, hotel staff and local entrepreneurs, women are changing the tourism scene in Madhya Pradesh, writes Santosh Ojha

I meet the reticent Kiran Gond, 29, in a tiny workshop in Madla village, near Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh (MP). She is stitching cloth bags with tiger motifs which sell at lodges within the park where tourists will buy them as trip souvenirs. MP government has funded this workshop to manufacture "responsible" souvenirs that are eco-friendly and reflect the local culture. These are made by the local community - primarily women. PashooPakshee, a company formed by the articulate Savini Sonavaria based in Mumbai, provides technical support to the unit and offers market access.

Savini quit her lucrative engineering job to involve community women to be gainfully involved with tourism. She has helped set up similar small workshops around tourism hotspots across India to manufacture souvenirs. Savini says that Kiran and her two younger siblings used to be daily wage labourers before they were hired and trained for their jobs. Life looks a lot brighter for the orphaned siblings.

Sisters-in-law Rekha and Kamla Kushwaha live in a joint family in Ladpura Khas village, near Orchha, MP, a tourist hotspot. They sell their farm produce in Orchha town. When MP Tourism launched its rural homestay scheme, the ladies spotted an opportunity. They built two rooms based on the design and partial financial subsidy provided by the government. For Rs 2,000 per night, a couple can stay in a serene rural environment. You can take an early morning walk in the fields and breathe fresh air. Pluck a papaya or two if it catches your fancy or even a fresh bottle gourd that Rekha or Kamla would cook for you. They claim theirs are the best you can find. The sisters-in-law are content. They now get to interact with new people, thereby expanding their horizons. And more importantly, as Rekha says, "If we have guests for even a hundred nights a year, it is an additional income of Rs 2 lakh for the family. Great help in supporting expenses on children's education." Other village women too are making some extra money from rural tourism. Some are part of the village singing group, while some make simple clay figurines bought by tourists. A few of the women ferry tourists in their e-rikshaws in and around this village. The partnership of a government body and the local community is adding to the local economy. And working wonders for the spirit of these simple rural women.

Check out DH's latest videos

The MP Tourism Board has this prosaically named programme, 'Safe Tourist Destination for Women in Madhya Pradesh'. The idea is to make the solo woman tourist, or a group of women, feel safe while travelling in the state. The execution of this idea has enormous social ramifications, especially for the community women. Mehroon Siddique is an energetic young woman from Panna, MP. Her story is inspirational. She used to work as an Anganwadi Sahayika, a helper that assists the Anganwadi worker. She worked hard to come up in life and is now running Adhar, an NGO in Madhya Pradesh. She is executing this project in the Khajuraho-Panna area, which is a prime tourist destination.