Awl's Well That Ends Well

Awl's Well That Ends Well

Ram Bihari Ravidas is a cobbler in Rampur village in Bihar's Nalanda district. The first time we met him, he was in the middle of some serious negotiation with a customer on a very hot day. While the customer wanted to get his battered shoe repaired, he was adamant to not pay the price Ram Bihari wanted. He finally gave in.

Cobblers belong to the Dalit community. And it is a common sight to see them on the roadside with their tools—hammer, awl, shoe stand, knife, cutter, leather, thread— braving the weather (and the customer!) to earn a very meagre livelihood. We approached Ram Bihari and  asked how we could help. Pat came the reply, “You must have noticed that I have to sit and work in the open in all kinds of weather condition. I had saved some money for a wooden stall shop, but all my savings dried up during the lockdown”. 

Oxfam India’s Holistic Rural Development Programme (HRDP) team stepped in. The Oxfam India-HDFC initiative, titled ‘Project Utthan’, contributes towards the socio-economic empowerment of people from marginalised communities by aiding with sustainable livelihood options and improving access to essential services (especially women) across 15 villages in Nalanda. Rs 12000 was transferred to Ram Bihari and his wife Manju Devi's account so that they could improve the business. 

Not only did Ram Bihari get a new wooden stall, he also diversified. Apart from cobbling, Ram started keeping grocery items such as chips, biscuits, soap, and washing detergent. Now he sits comfortably in his shop. His monthly income has increased by Rs 2,000 thanks to his new, improved and diversified business. 

The diversification is the icing on the cake. It is a huge step towards ending discrimination and breaking the mould where the profession of a person is pre-decided and imposed upon them because of the caste they are born into. 

Ram Bihari says, “I had a very hard time sitting in the scorching sun. I even had to shut shop during rainy season. But now that I have this wooden stall that has both kinds of customers coming by — those who want to repair shoes and those who want to buy grocery. All my worries are over”.

📢Oxfam India is now on Telegram. Click here to join our Telegram channel and stay tuned to the latest updates and insights on social and development issues.     


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