No glass ceiling: It’s female first here

Transformed from a post office into a boutique hotel in Khajuraho, Dakghar 606 is ensuring that local women get the first preference in the hospitality industry by employing them in various capacities.  A report by Deepanwita Gita Niyogi

As the soft-spoken Anamika Anuragi placed a cup of creamy cold coffee on a table at Dakghar 606, a boutique hotel facing the Shivsagar Lake, she revealed how she had never applied lipstick before. “My family’s religious leader is of the view that women should refrain from using any
kind of makeup and stay simple. But after I joined this hotel as a housekeeper, I have started using a bit of makeup regularly to appear presentable in front of guests,” Anamika said.

A resident of Khajuraho in Chhattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, famous for its ornate temples and water bodies, the young woman has not received a proper education in life. Somehow, Anamika can write her name and read a few simple sentences. She explained that more than that is clearly beyond her capacity. But she received proper training before landing in this job. “That has made me confident with visitors who come here to relax.”

To draw the female workforce into the tourism industry, training sessions, ranging from a fortnight to three months, are organized from time to time by non-profits with support from the state tourism board. Many women like Anamika, who used to sit at home, now work in hotels. They are happy to contribute to their families’ income.

Taste of life

From a post office to a boutique hotel at present, Dakghar 606 is ensuring that local women get the first preference in the hospitality industry by employing them in various capacities. This is also part of Madhya Pradesh’s safe tourism destination for women initiative aimed at making solo female travellers comfortable.

A vendor, who keeps a small shop on the footpath opposite the hotel, remarked that this place where Dakghar 606 stands dates back to the time of royalty. Khajuraho now has a new post office at the bus stand. Vendor Shakeel Khan’s house is in Sevagram, a busy locality in Khajuraho. He serves chai and breakfast to tourists.

Back at the hotel, Anamika informed that her day starts early as her children attend morning school. After seeing them off, she cooks a quick meal at home and packs her tiffin before coming to Dakghar 606 for work. After Anamika received her first salary, she purchased sweets for her family. She is happy to help her husband.

At this cosy hotel, women staff outnumber men. Apart from Anamika, Rani Vishwakarma also belongs to Khajuraho. She comes walking daily and helps with cleaning. “I am happy to work in the morning shift so that I can go back home in the evening. Before this, I used to stay at home. My husband also works in a hotel.”

Women like Anamika and Rani, who work at Dakghar 606, appear confident. Being in jobs has made them smart in outlook. Apart from work, they also take pride in their appearance. “We have been told to use subtle makeup, small earrings and not wear too many bangles while on duty,” Anamika added.

A warm welcome

Dakghar 606 has 10 rooms for guests. On the top, there is a terrace where visitors can relax and have food. This space with several nooks and corners have potted plants and attractive wall décor.

A confident Rashmi Anuragi, who is in her B.Sc final year at a college in Chhattarpur, works by the day and studies at night. Her subjects are zoology, botany and chemistry. “I have become a role model for my friends who derive inspiration from me. Working in the hotel has made me smart. My English has also improved,” Rashmi said. Laughing out loud, she informed that life is now unthinkable without smart clothes and makeup.

Rashmi informed that after being trained by Adhar, a non-profit based in Khajuraho’s Lalguwan Road, she landed in Dakghar 606 where she sits at the reception. “My family is happy to see me work at the hotel. Before joining, I led a sheltered life but now I talk to guests freely. When I received my first salary, I bought something special for my mother and presented a saree to my sister in-law.”

In the balcony overlooking the vast Shivsagar lake, gardener Ramswarup informed that he had joined two years back. The elderly man, who used to work in a government nursery before this, reminisced about the bygone days. “There were about 84 water bodies in the city. But unfortunately many of them dried up with time.”

Yashaswani Bhayal is the brain behind Dakghar 606. Originally hailing from Rajasthan, her family shifted to Khajuraho where once her father was the general manager of a five-star hotel. “At that time I was about three years old. My family stayed for 12 years in Khajuraho and then moved elsewhere as my father had a transferable job.” Now, the family has settled down here.

Armed with a mass communication degree, Bhayal, however, always wanted to start a hotel and now runs the place in partnership with her aunt. She named it Dakghar 606 as it was a post office before, the first in fact in Khajuraho, and 606 is the pincode of the city. Bhayal remembered how the place was in the 1980s. There were many foreigners who came to this temple town and sent postcards to their families and friends from here. Indian tourists were hardly seen then.

“I always wanted to hire women and run the hotel entirely by an all-female staff. But being a rural area, Khajuraho still has some restrictions. It is just a matter of time. There is a plan to employ only women in future. It is not impossible but there are certain things to keep in mind, such as, I would have to hire a female guard at night as guests arrive pretty late sometimes.”