Science, Science and the Art of Transforming Tribal Lives – The New Indian Express

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Express press service

COIMBATORE: Laughter fills Dayaseva Sadan’s small room as eight women skillfully weave banana fiber into rectangular mats. That’s not all, the group – all belonging to the Anaikatti tribe – evokes small bags, placemats, yoga mats and handbags with this yarn. In the evening, the women walk through the hills, back home with the hard-earned 400 rupees in their pockets and the satisfaction of a day’s work.

This centre, established by Raman Soundararajan in 2012, has been a mainstay of support and a source of income for tribal women in the Coimbatore district. “Previously, tribal women harvested forest products and sold them to middlemen for minimal income. They didn’t know how to turn them into value-added products. Thanks to Soundararajan’s efforts, many have gained confidence to start their own businesses, said S Poongodi, a woman from the Anaikatti community and technical manager of Dayaseva Sadan.

Prior to establishing the center, Soundararajan spent 10 long years at various institutions including the University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, and Purdue University. The scientist also led the research group of Nobel Prize-winning scientist HC Brown until 1996.

Hoping to do something more, he returned to India. Dayaseva Sadan’s idea took shape in the mind of the 64-year-old native Tiruvannamalai when he became a student of Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam near Anaikatti.

Applying her knowledge of chemistry, Soundararajan taught the women of Anaikatti how to assemble value-added products from minor forest products. “At first, my research focused on transforming banana fiber into yarn that could be used to make mats. A Nallasamy weaver from Kavindapadi in Erode assisted us in this endeavour, and in gratitude we named the mat “Nallasamy yoga mat”. Later, in 2018, we started making palm plates. Despite its limited success, tribal women learned to create new products and make a living from them,” Soundararajan recalls.

At present, the women are also selling 11 herbal flavored honeys by sourcing honey collected from the tribal communities in the surrounding hamlets. Unlike supermarket honey, they add rose, saffron, cardamom and ginger. That’s not all, their product list includes six types of organic fruit-based jams and ten types of soup mixes.

As the pandemic raged, the center made herbal sanitizers, sanitizing tablet wipes, mouthwashes, mosquito repellents and aloe vera gel moisturizers. “The herbal sanitizer kit has been approved by the Ministry of AYUSH,” says Soundararajan

He points out that they also get interest free loans up to 25,000` for urgent needs. “The center also regularly offers drumstick and spinach soup mix to tribal children to address their nutritional issues. If a tribal woman uses available resources to start a business, it will benefit the community as a whole,” says Soundararajan.

Next on the list is to tap into the international market, starting with clay terracotta products. The women hope to export these products to Qatar for the first time.

COIMBATORE: Laughter fills Dayaseva Sadan’s small room as eight women skillfully weave banana fiber into rectangular mats. That’s not all, the group – all belonging to the Anaikatti tribe – evokes small bags, placemats, yoga mats and handbags with this yarn. In the evening, the women walk through the hills, back home with the hard-earned 400 rupees in their pockets and the satisfaction of a day’s work. This centre, established by Raman Soundararajan in 2012, has been a mainstay of support and a source of income for tribal women in the Coimbatore district. “Previously, tribal women harvested forest products and sold them to middlemen for minimal income. They didn’t know how to turn them into value-added products. Thanks to Soundararajan’s efforts, many have gained confidence to start their own businesses, said S Poongodi, a woman from the Anaikatti community and technical manager of Dayaseva Sadan. Prior to establishing the center, Soundararajan spent 10 long years at various institutions including the University of Oklahoma, Washington State University, and Purdue University. The scientist also led the research group of Nobel Prize-winning scientist HC Brown until 1996. Hoping to do something more, he returned to India. Dayaseva Sadan’s idea took shape in the mind of the 64-year-old native Tiruvannamalai when he became a student of Swami Dayananda Saraswati at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam near Anaikatti. Applying her knowledge of chemistry, Soundararajan taught the women of Anaikatti how to assemble value-added products from minor forest products. “At first, my research focused on transforming banana fiber into yarn that could be used to make mats. A Nallasamy weaver from Kavindapadi in Erode assisted us in this endeavour, and in gratitude we named the mat “Nallasamy yoga mat”. Later, in 2018, we started making palm plates. Despite its limited success, tribal women learned to create new products and make a living from them,” Soundararajan recalls. At present, the women are also selling 11 herbal flavored honeys by sourcing honey collected by tribal communities from the surrounding hamlets. Unlike supermarket honey, they add rose, saffron, cardamom and ginger. That’s not all, their product list includes six types of organic fruit-based jams and ten types of soup mixes. As the pandemic raged, the center made herbal sanitizers, sanitizing tablet wipes, mouthwashes, mosquito repellents and aloe vera gel moisturizers. “The herbal sanitizer kit has been approved by the Ministry of AYUSH,” says Soundararajan. He points out that they are also getting interest-free loans of up to £25,000 for urgent needs. “The center also regularly offers drumstick and spinach soup mix to tribal children to address their nutritional issues. If a tribal woman uses available resources to start a business, it will benefit the community as a whole,” says Soundararajan. Next on the list is to tap into the international market, starting with clay terracotta products. The women hope to export these products to Qatar for the first time.

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