Ten Paniya women in Sulthan Bathery, Kerala celebrated their first harvest of around 350 fish on 7 March 2022. This was the result of seven months of labour invested in an entrepreneurial initiative that was completely new to the community and especially the women; a daring to break the biases in their local society.
Highly marginalised traditionally; the Paniyas were originally bonded labourers to landlords, they currently remain landless and mostly uneducated. They usually reside in the hilly regions of Wayanad, Nilgiris, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kodagu, eking out a living from casual labour. During the pandemic, their livelihoods were very badly affected.
As females from this marginalised community, the Paniya women often experienced opportunities being withheld from them, reinforcing their reluctance to come to the forefront. Through consistent training from the Women Empowerment through Livelihood and Entrepreneurship (WELiVE) programme, traditional taboos that hindered them were weakened. Since the women had no space in their homes to start gardens or poultry units, their neighbours, the Don Bosco College, supported them with a loan of space to dig a pond and start a fish farm. The women needed to learn various new skills to bring their fish farm to life, which they did, empowering themselves in the process.
The women fittingly celebrated their harvest with a public function, inaugurated by Mr TK Ramesh, Chairman of the Sulthan Bathery Municipal Corporation, in the presence of Mrs Sumathi, local Councillor, and the Salesians from Don Bosco Sulthan Bathery. Experiencing the successful accomplishment of their enterprise boosted the women’s confidence, fuelling their willingness to do more—the clear impact of ‘gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’. They decided to distribute the harvested fish among all the twenty-two families of their community to encourage other women to also break the bias and become entrepreneurs.
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