Saris are the traditional clothing worn by women in India. One town known for its unique hand-loom saris is Ilkal, which lies in the Bagalkot district of North Karnataka. The name is derived from two Kannada words — “ilu” (slope) and “kallu” (stone) — referring to the terrain which slopes down from Bagalkot to Ilkal and to the predominance of granite in the surrounding regions. Ilkal originated as a weaving center sometime during the 8th century AD. The saris here are usually woven using either cotton or a mix of cotton and natural or artificial silk.
Three kilometers from the Ilkal bus station is a small community named Gurlingappa Ashraya Colony, which contains 300 houses. Secluded from the rest of the town, a majority of the people living here are sari weavers who struggle with many challenges, such as a lack of electricity and drinking water. Kerosene lamps had been their only option for lighting until a SELCO staff member, in collaboration with S3IDF, identified their problem and provided a demonstration of solar power in few houses. The demonstration proved useful, exhibiting the potential of solar energy not only to the residents but also to the Manager of the nearby Karnataka Vikas Gameena Bank (KVGB) who was invited by SELCO and S3IDF for the evening demonstration. The bank manager was so impressed that he immediately suggested formation of Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) of five members each to facilitate faster loan processing and subsequent repayment collection. SELCO and S3IDF proposed a 2 light LED system that cost Rs.7200 along with a mobile phone charging station for each of the houses. However, the weavers found it difficult to pay the Rs. 1500 of down payment, which KVGB required before it would issue loans. As a result, SELCO and S3IDF, through Applied Materials Foundation (AMF) funding, provided Rs 1000 to households to subsidize a part of their down payment.
During initial discussions, the weavers said that they use kerosene in the evenings to work but that this causes their eyes and noses to burn. “We faced the problems together and now we want to change it together.” After receiving his lighting system, Ramesh a sari weaver, stated, “The main threat of using kerosene lamps is that they can burn our precious saris anytime. We were always hesitant to leave the house even for a few minutes as one small drop of kerosene can ignite and bring the whole house down, taking away the fruits of our hard work.”
SELCO and S3IDF’s provision of mobile chargers has also proved to be a boon to the weavers. “Before we had to walk 3–4 kilometers along rough and rocky roads to charge our phones. In the dark it was hard to see and one could easily fall, causing injuries. Now that we have the solar chargers we can smoothly charge our phones and needn’t worry about roaming out at night” claims an elated Ramesh. The weekly income of the weavers has improved as they can work through the night and make more saris. “The LED lights are very reliable, so working a few extra hours in the evening has helped us increase our productivity” the weavers sum up. With 37 houses now electrified in the colony, SELCO and S3IDF’s support has helped the sari weavers increase their productivity and security.