Assam techie behind the smile of thousands of woman labourers


In Assam a 31- year old techie is slowly bringing smile to thousands of woman labourers in its tea gardens, a silent revolution that is being noticed off late so distinctly.

Two years ago, Nelson Deb, the web designer left his cushy job with a software firm in Bangalore three years back to come back to Assam and work for the women tea laborers, the most visible face of the tea industry- a cane basket on her back, picking leaves in a lush tea garden, and smiling. Constituting half the work force, Assam's tea tribe women are a jovial lot, painting a pretty picture for cover shots. But behind their cheerful demeanor, however, is a story of ironies.

Constituting the half of the workforce, the women lab ours in Assam lives under a deplorable condition due to malnutrition, lack off sanitation and hygiene and thus most vulnerable to diseases. Tuberculosis, gastrointestinal diseases, diarrhoea are common among the community.

Nelson Deb targeted these women to fulfill his dream. A graduate from Bangalore University Nelson left his job in a multinational software company and started Eco Hub, in 2012 – his eco-entrepreneurship venture. Eco hub recycles waste to manufacture low-cost sanitary napkins and paper bags. Since then there is no looking back for this young entrepreneur.

Nelson came up with the idea of manufacturing low cost sanitary pads after observing that level of  menstrual health was very low among the women labourers of tea gardens. Many didn't know how to use sanitary pads, about its benefits, how using it can prevent diseases like RTIs. So Nelson started organizing awareness camps for them which led to the increasing demand for his affordable sanitary pads.

These low-cost sanitary napkins became a huge hit in no time, among the tea tribe communities of the tea gardens of upper Assam who are not paid enough to use high priced sanitary pads available in the market. Moreover, the menfolk's penchant to blow away hard-earned money from the factories on alcohol and gambling makes such essentials into luxury items.

"Our product is way cheaper than the usual brands available in the market," Nelson says. "In upper Assam, where there are so many tea garden workers, there is a huge market for our sanitary pads. A packet of sanitary pad is priced at Rs13. In wholesale it will cost Rs. 11. We are getting many takers."

The manufacturing unit employs about 40 women workers, and while 20 of them work in the factory, making paper bags and sanitary napkins, the rest go door-to-door marketing the products in remote tea gardens of upper Assam's Golaghat and Jorhat districts. Further, health awareness camps are also held in the tea gardens as a part of the initiative to make tea garden workers aware of issues concerning adolescence and overall hygiene.

These napkins are now addressing twin problems: increasing awareness of hygiene issues among women and generating livelihood for them.

"Some women are very obstinate and are resistant to change but once their friends and family members who attend the camps talk to them about the benefits, they do change their minds and make an effort to use sanitary pads instead of dirty rags", added the entrepreneur.

Nelson and his team's efforts have received a boost from the NRHM, who distribute the sanitary napkins for free in rural areas. This is to raise awareness about them among the women. However, it is not sanitary napkins alone. Nelson has now ventured into manufacturing eco-friendly bags using animal waste. The paper bag unit makes bags, diaries and designer paper sheets using elephant and rhino dung collected from the nearby Kaziranga National Park.

At present Eco hub supplies sanitary pads to 50 tea gardens of Assam. There are more than 20,000 women labourers who have started using the pads.

"'Breaking the barriers of taboo is always challenging but at the end of the day it is worth it when one can see the results' said a happy Nelson."

Syeda Ambia Zahan