A team of women who have beaten the odds to start their own businesses is changing the lives of many more.
Taajira, which means businesswoman, is a Facebook group that has helped several members to turn Covid from a threat into an opportunity.
Mumtaz Raza, 38, a real-estate dealer, is one of them.
Three years ago, Mumtaz was the “only idle member” in her wealthy family. Her mother asked Mumtaz to find a buyer for one of their several properties in Topsia and Park Circus. When Mumtaz suggested she get in touch with a broker, her mother said she would prefer giving the commission to her daughter instead of another person.
Mumtaz, who came to know about the Facebook group through a friend, made a post looking for a buyer. She found one and hasn’t looked back since.
“During the pandemic, many professionals came back to West Bengal. Many of them have permanently shifted to the work-from-home mode. They need accommodation. It is essentially about demand and supply. What Taajira has done is help me build a solid network,” said Mumtaz.
Initially, she was uncomfortable with the tag of a broker. Now, she wears it on her sleeve. For a girl married after Class X, who spent most of her life being a homemaker, clinching deals that sometimes run into “crores” of rupees is like an adrenaline rush. “It is a new life,” she said.
Saleha Tarannum, another member of Taajira, trains women to ride a Scooty.
Aiza's, the Topsia centre named after Saleha's daughter, is nearing two years. More than 1,000 women have been trained at Aiza’s till now.
The majority of them learn riding to be able to drop their children to school and tuition and bring them back home. The same need had spurred Saleha to learn to ride a two-wheeler.
Her business has flourished. Mothers, weary of public transport, have to take children to schools and coaching centres.
Several working women have also learnt riding from Aiza's, where the trainers are women.
Like Mumtaz, Taajira gave Saleha access to a prospective clientele, which, she otherwise would have struggled to find.
“My biggest satisfaction is seeing the range of women who come for training. There are 18-year-olds. There is also a 57-year-old woman who came all the way from Kidderpore. Riding a two-wheeler has its practical utilities. But for many of us, it is a liberating experience,” said Saleha.
Taajira is the baby of Rukhshi Elias, the founder and the chief mentor of the group.
“When I started the group with barely a handful, in March 2019, I could not imagine it would become so successful. Most of these women are first-generation entrepreneurs. Many of their journeys have not been smooth. They have faced resistance from their family members and from the world outside. But they have stood firm. From homemakers, they are now employers. The group has now got an organic trajectory of its own,” said Elias, who also owns Shaikh’s, a Beckbagan restaurant that is fast gaining popularity for its beef dishes.
The Facebook group has over 25,000 members. Around 1,400 of them are sellers. Every seller has to undergo an online induction and training programme, which deals with a host of subjects from legal to marketing.
After the completion of the training, an identity number is issued to a seller. Every post made by a seller has to be accompanied with that number, as a mark of authenticity.
Homemade spices, readymade garments, accessories, home decor, the sellers deal in a wide variety of products and services.
Not all the members are Muslims. Ritu Saraf, 47, sells bags, both online and from a store on AJC Bose Road. Ritu took to business after a void in her life.
“I got married 25 years ago. But raising children left me with little time for anything else. When the children grew up, I suddenly felt jobless,” she said. Since she joined Taajira, life has only become busier.
On November 5, the group organised an exhibition at a banquet in Topsia. Thousands of visitors thronged the show. The same day, a magazine, Titliyan (butterflies), was launched. The magazine features the profiles of 38 women entrepreneurs who are part of the group.
At the exhibition, the stall of Arshi Minnat, selling organic skincare products, was one of the top draws.
Arshi has over 4,000 clients, many of them based outside Bengal. “The group has given me respect and my own identity,” said Arshi, 33.