Picture a paper picker the streets of Ahmedabad, earning at most a measly amount of ₹ 5 a day. Now, 35 years later, picture the same lady heading a cleaners' cooperative with a stunning turnover of 1 crore per annum.
This is the story of Manjula Vaghela, going sturdy at even 60 years of age. Her cooperative, Shri Saundarya Safai Utkarsh Mahila Sewa Sahkari Mandali Ltd (SSSUMSSML), started off with no more than 40 women offering commercial cleaning services, with initial support from the Elaben Bhatt-founded Self-Employed Women's Association (Sewa).
Once founded, it took Manjula five years to get her cooperative registered by the authorities. Their first work opportunity came from the National Institute of Design, this was followed by other institutes like the Physical Research Laboratory.
Today, the cooperative employs 400 members, majority of whom are former rag pickers, and provides cleaning services to 45 institutions and societies in Ahmedabad. In addition to this, they have also offered their services during the Vibrant Gujarat summits. The workers go through repeated intermittent training, learning new efficient safer techniques.
The ladies now boast of owning and operating modern equipment like road cleaners, vacuum cleaners, micro fibre mops, scrubbers, extractors, and carpet shampooing machines. Not only is the cooperative employing and paying formerly low-paid women, it is also doing a commendable job towards maintaining cleanliness.
Success has not eluded the ladies, they recently reached the ₹ 1 crore benchmark. Companies issuing e-tender for contracts have posed a challenge, which the ladies, of course, are determined to overcome.