LILA: Started by a group of seven women, the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad has grown into an organisation with international reach and recognition today. What was the felt need or motivation to build such an organisation, and how did they come together?
Swati Paradkar: Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad started on 15th March 1959 at ‘Lohana Niwas’, a residential building in Girgaum in South Mumbai, when seven women gathered together on the terrace and rolled out four packets of papad. It started on an experimental basis, with the ladies having a firm resolve to continue the activity. The women did not have any training but an acquired talent and expertise of rolling papad, and they were committed to use this for the benefit and welfare of larger number of women.
What drove the women was a belief that papads, if they were of good quality and got accepted by the customers, would lead to the success of their venture, and would thus require a much larger participation of women in this activity. In turn, the women would be able to supplement the family income and become economically self-reliant.
LILA: With the growth the organization has seen, it certainly seems like the members of Lijjat have benefitted economically. Has this growth also led to their involvement in different kinds of activities? Have their skills, knowledge and expertise grown since this organisation first started?
Swati Paradkar: In the initial years, the Institution ran on an informal basis without any constitution. The papads were well-received by the consumers and the need was felt to take this activity forward and reach out to more women in other parts of Mumbai and the country. This was possible only if the Institution got statutory recognition. The women felt that a recognition of this activity by the Khadi & Village Industries Commission would be beneficial for further growth and development. Therefore, in 1966 the Institution was registered as a Society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 and under the Bombay Public Trusts Act, 1950. In the same year it received recognition as a ‘Village Industry’ by the Khadi & Village Industries Commission. This was in a way a historic year and a turning point for the Institution as thereafter it began to spread its activities and opened new branches throughout the country and membership of women began to increase.
Today we have 83 branches and 27 divisions in 16 states with more than 45,000 women members gaining sustainable self-employment opportunities. Apart from papad we have diversified and started to manufacture other products like chapaties, masala, gehu atta [wheat flour] and detergent cake, powder and liquid soap.
The women have thus been empowered in many ways through the Institution. The diversity in other products have shown that even if you do not possess trained skills, knowledge or expertise, your dedication, devotion and commitment to work can take you to great heights and help you achieve success.
LILA: What makes Lijjat grow and sustain at an international scale, when many other co-operatives have not been able to achieve these heights? What are the lessons we can draw from Lijjat about this?
Swati Paradkar: The basic structure, principles and thoughts upon which this Institution is established have been adhered to and abided by the sister members since its inception. One of the principles is to ensure that only the best quality of raw materials are utilised in the papad and there is no compromise on this aspect. Having maintained this quality in the last 60 years is a major reason for our success. Papads are also popular internationally and we are exporting to several countries through merchant exporters to cater to mainly Indians living abroad.
The lessons to be drawn from the Institution are about winning over the customer’s goodwill by offering good quality of products. Customer satisfaction has become essential to our growth and has led to the increase in demand and sales. This is the secret of the Institution’s success, which continues to follow this principle at all times.
LILA: Your organisation holds the concepts of business, family and devotion as the foundations of your work? Please elaborate on these concepts for us.
Swati Paradkar: Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad is synthesis of three different concepts: The concept of Business; the concept of Family; the concept of Devotion.
All these concepts are completely and uniformly followed in this Institution. As a result of this synthesis, a peculiar Lijjat way of thinking has developed therein.
The Institution has adopted the concept of business from the very beginning. It produces quality goods and sells them at reasonable price. We have never accepted nor are we ever going to accept any charity, donation, gift or grant from any quarter. On the contrary members donate collectively for good causes from time to time, whatever is there within their might, such as construction of houses for Earthquake affected families of Chincholi-Jogan (Latur) and Bhujpur, Kutch, and providing financial aid to flood affected people in the country.
The Institution has adopted the concept of mutual family affection, concern and trust. All its affairs are tackled on the very same pattern as a family carries out its own daily household chores.
The most important concept adopted by the Institution is the concept of devotion. For the sister members as well as the employees and the well-wishers, the Institution is never merely a place to earn one’s livelihood. It is a Temple, a Church, a Mosque, a Gurudwara – a place of worship. The Institution is open for everybody who has faith in its basic concepts.
LILA: As the co-operative grows and expands, involving more and more people, how are its core values maintained?
Swati Paradkar: As the Institution opens new branches in the country, many more women get associated with it and become its sister members. This furthers the objects of the Institution. With growth and expansion, our basic philosophy and practices are also uniformly followed by all sister members at the branches. A pledge form is filled by the sisters when they join as members and observe the same in their day-to-day activity. The principles and values are maintained by each sister member. This has been going on since inception. The values on which the Institution is based will continue to be abided by all our sister members as this had led to the growth, success and progress of the Institution and has paved the way for women to become self-reliant.
Donation to LILA is eligible for tax exemption u/s 80 G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act 1961 vide order no. NQ CIT (E) 6139 DEL-LE25902-16032015 dated 16/03/2015