Homemaker now heads company

A school dropout brings in transformation

Homemaker now heads company
She had launched campaign against illegal liquor outlets and brewing units

A homemaker and school dropout in Kataru, a tiny seaside fishermen’s village in Ganjam district in south Odisha, is now the managing director of a small company that provides livelihood to the families of 4,000 fisherwomen. And, B Chittiamma, who has just passed third standard, has come a long way. “Yes, it has been a long and wonderful journey so far. And I cherish every moment of it,” the 72-year-old said with a broad smile.

With one international and several national awards, she has become an inspirational figure for others in the community. “She is the heroine of the fishing community in the entire state,” said Mangaraj Panda of United Artists’ Association (UAA), a socio-cultural organisation based in Ganjam town in the Ganjam district which assisted and helped Chittiamma and her associates to form Samudram, the company the senior citizen now heads.

In 1995, Samudram, then a self-help group, consisting of fisherwomen in Kataru and a few neighbouring villages, was launched. The group procured fish and other marine products from fishermen and sold directly to wholesalers in places like Kolkota, Chennai and Delhi. 

“The main objective behind formation of Samudram was to save local fishermen and women from exploitation by traders, touts and middlemen,” said Panda.

The organisation started functioning from 15 villages in  districts of Ganjam and Puri. As the business began to grow, Samudram started making value-added products like dry fish, pickles and papad of different kinds of salt water fish and prawn. The Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai, extended a helping hand and trained Samudram members. Other agencies like Bhubaneswar-based Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology  came forward to help the organisation.

With all help and hard work, Samudram has now turned into a full-fledged company. It currently has 11 units functioning from four sea-linked Odisha districts of Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Balasore besides Ganjam.

Samudram’s products -- all ISO certified-- are currently being sold in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Delhi besides a few north-eastern states. It markets in Odisha through Chilika Fresh, a state government-run retail chain.

The company is not complacent and content with selling its products within the country. It now intends to export them to some African and European countries besides United Arab Emirates . And efforts in this regard have already begun.

In fact, the company is now in the process of procuring 80 solar driers to produce “100 per cent hygienic dry fish” so that they can be exported without any hurdles. “There is a huge demand for dry fish in African nations,” said Panda of UAA which continues to provide its assistance and support to Samudram. 

Chittiamma, who was born in a village near Visakhapatnam in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, arrived in the Ganjam village after her marriage to B Potudu, a local fisherman, at the age of 20. Before launching Samurdram, Chittiamma was already a well-known face in Ganjam because of her crusade against alcoholism.

She had formed a group called Kali Amma Nari Sangha with fisherwomen from 7 nearby villages and its main work was to persuade people to give up liquor and destroy illegal liquor joints and “vattis” (brewing units) in the villages.

  “I launched the campaign against alcoholism as I found liquor was destroying the life of  fishermen and their families. Besides quarrels in the family, it was also leading to law and order problem,” she said.

Life, however, had not been always rosy for Chittiamma. She had her share of problems. She faced non-cooperation from her own family when she decided to turn a crusader against alcoholism. “My husband had put pressure on me on several occasions not to participate in the anti-liquor campaign, leaving behind children at home. By then, I had three of my six children. However, I always managed to overcome obstacles in my life,” the septuagenarian said with a smile. She had received death threats from the liquor mafia several times during her campaign against alcoholism. 

She has already won several awards for her achievements. However, the high point of her life was in 2010 when she received the UNDP sponsored Equator prize for her work. She was in New York for 15 days to receive the award and participate in a workshop that followed. “I was thrilled to get the international award that too in a far away place like New York. I must acknowledge that all awards I have received are not solely because of my work but due to the efforts of all volunteers. The awards belong to the entire community,” she insisted.

She has already inspired several women working with her to carry forward her work. And one among them is M Parvati who currently serves as a director and a master trainer at Samudram. “She is our inspiration. It has now become a challenge for us to carry forward her work”, said the woman in her late 30s.

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