Off a busy street in the city of Pune, a row of women sits behind a line of windows.
The windows, set up in an open air foyer, look like train ticket windows, but instead of selling train tickets, piles of speckled dough and women in brightly colored sarees sort taffy-like cylinders of raw dough.
Adjacent to the windows, a pair of women sit cross-legged on the ground while they sift through near-opaque circles over a light box. They are looking for imperfections in the finished product of their operation: shaped, uncooked papa dum.
In another room, a group of older women mix dry ingredients for the dough in large aluminum vats. Upstairs, more women package the paper-thin circles of dough into plastic bags. The operation is in full swing, and one thing can’t be ignored…
Save for the bookkeeper, there are no men working here.
In this operation, 90% of the employees are women responsible for sourcing, making, sorting, and packaging stacks of papa dum. When cooked, papa dum are a thin, crispy, wafer with some spice, almost like a tostada or a large tortilla chip.
In a country where women are often excluded from participating in business and encouraged to stay home and tend to the home, this operation is an anomaly. With over 6,000 operations across India, it allows women who might not find adequate and regular work a place to do precisely that.
The process of making papa dum might not be simple, however, the operation breaks down each step, from the creation of the dough to packaging, allowing women who might be less experienced to still work.
However, there is still an incongruence between giving these women more opportunity and giving them full autonomy over the operation. They are still doing what would typically be considered a traditionally female role: they are responsible for the production of food.
The women are mostly older and thus were not part of a generation that had the same access to education women in India have today. Were they to have domain over tasks like bookkeeping, marketing, and other vital operational aspects of the business, Lijjat papad would be a women-only enterprise.
In the grand scheme of India’s business and social responsibility landscape, however, it would be hard to argue that Lijjat isn’t looking in the right direction.