Over the past year, we have highlighted some emerging themes in the India story including the rise of India’s women, the ascent of southern India and growth in Indian manufacturing thanks to China plus One (a phrase used to describe the world’s imperative to reduce reliance on China for its manufacturing needs). Here’s a heartwarming story that is at the confluence of these three themes.

“Krishnagiri is among Tamil Nadu’s most underdeveloped districts and ranks poorly on almost all social parameters, especially those pertaining to women. It has a sex ratio of 929 women to 1,000 men, much lower than the state average of 996. This is because sex determination and abortions are rampant. Girls are rarely educated beyond the 10th standard and female literacy is at just 57%. Child marriage is common, and so are teenage pregnancies. Infant mortality, at 12 per 1,000 births, is much higher than the state average of 8.2. There is a deep-rooted belief that men are superior.”

All this is changing quite rapidly thanks to Tamil Nadu’s resurgence in manufacturing (something that the state had led historically). The government’s policies have attracted investments in manufacturing whilst its welfare initiatives have helped women equip themselves to participate in this growth.

““In the last few years, investments worth ₹20,840 crore have been made in the district. These investments have created a lot of jobs specifically for women,” says V. Vishnu, managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) of Guidance, Tamil Nadu’s single-window investment promotion arm. Ola employs 2,500 women at its plant, called Futurefactory. Its assembly line is entirely staffed by women, who produce as many as 40,000 e-scooters a month. Next door, Fairway Enterprises has 6,000 women workers producing shoes for global customers. Some 70km away, Tata Electronics, which makes components for handset makers such as Apple, employs about 14,000 workers, again mostly women, state government officials say.

 “When we were setting up the Ola Futurefactory, the representation of women in the manufacturing sector was minimal, especially in the automobile sector. We decided to break this status quo. We believe that women are not only more productive but are also more capable in terms of dexterity, flexibility, and learning agility,” says Bhavish Aggarwal, founder, Ola Electric. Also, empowering women with economic opportunities improves not just their lives but also the lives of their families and the community as a whole, he adds.

The women, it appears, have delivered. “This decision has reaped rich operational dividends for us,” says Aggarwal. Ola has seen lower absence rates and women have demonstrated significant multi-skilling capabilities. Aggarwal is betting on women for Ola Electric’s future expansion. “As we ramp up our production capacity for scooters and get into newer categories, we will expand our women workforce further,” says Aggarwal.”

Already this is beginning to show on social parameters:

Enrolment of girls into a college or a polytechnic has surged 89% in 2022-23 from the previous year. The average age of marriage has risen from 14 years to 21 years in the last two years. Child marriage may not have stopped but it has dropped sharply. The families now respect women—their newfound financial independence has given them a say in family affairs and over their own lives. It is only a matter of time, experts say, before the sex ratio, per capita income and other social parameters of the district improve.”

The Tamil Nadu government also seems to have played its part.

“Thanks to the spate of jobs on offer and the benefits they offer women, the state government is adopting a multi-pronged awareness programme to pave the way for them. Through schools, it is catching them young. “We have started career guidance from 9th standard,” says K.P. Maheshwari, chief educational officer, Krishnagiri. “We have prepared a booklet asking students what they want to become and what they should study to get employed in factories like Tata Electronics or Ola,” she adds. Kids are taught to look beyond marriage and become aware of the benefits financial independence offers them.

The parents are also counselled on the importance of educating the girl child, avoiding early marriage, and made aware of the numerous job opportunities that exist today. They are taught how to handle the societal pressure they will face for breaking with tradition…. the government has set up girls’ hostels and incentivizes parents who send a girl child to college. It has also come out with schemes that help girls choose a career and develop skills.”

To the extent that there is now a problem of plenty:

“Today, the jobs created by the influx of investments far outnumber the women available to take on such roles in Krishnagiri district. And so, a desperate industry is casting the net wider. “Earlier, companies looked for graduates or diploma holders. Now, they are okay taking in someone who has passed the 10th standard and training them,” says S. Deenadayalan, a human resources consultant who works in the district and identifies talent for employers.

Considering the future demand for jobs and the need to employ girls from faraway districts, the government is setting up large industrial hostels. On its part, industry is working closely with local polytechnics and engineering colleges to dovetail the curriculum to suit their needs.”

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