By Jigyasa Mishra*, Bikaner, Rajasthan
Pawan Kanwar, a 17-year-old girl living in a remote village in Rajasthan, has proved that neither age nor education is a bar if one decides to walk in a particular direction regardless of limitations and barriers. Pawan, who has studied up to the tenth standard, had never stepped out of Nosariya village in Bikaner district but still tried to improve the lives of many women by providing them basic literacy.
Four months ago, when Pawan heard that a tie and dye training workshop was going to be conducted in her village, she was excited as it was an opportunity for her to enhance her skills and add to the income of her family. Belonging to a conservative culture where women barely walk out of their homes, initially no other woman joined Pawan. She started attending the training alone, but within a week, she was accompanied by 20 other women of her village. "Ever since I have learned the art of tie and dye, I have got a new level of confidence, apart from earning money from it," Pawan told VillageSquare.in.
Pawan is the second child of her parents. Her father Kishore Singh Shekhawat is a farmer. To make ends meet, her elder brother has migrated to Surat in Gujarat. Pawan's younger sister studies in class 8 and her mother tends to cattle.
Initially no other woman joined Pawan. She started attending the training alone, but within a week, she was accompanied by 20 other women of her village.
The population of Nosariya is about 500 where 80 percent residents are Shekhawats. Hailing originally from Amber and Jaipur, Shekhawat is a sub-clan of Kachwaha Rajputs found mainly in Rajasthan. The rest of the village population comprises Dalits, who remain neglected by the majority. Most village residents earn a livelihood by selling dairy products to nearby villages. Most households have men who have migrated to cities in search of work.
In Nosariya, a high school education for girls is considered more than enough. Boys complete their schooling and move out for work, leaving behind their families with almost negligible options for livelihoods. In case a girl wants to study further or work, she is not allowed to move out unless she is married. Married ones can, however, move out of the village with their respective husbands but lack of education prevents them from getting work.
Thanks to Pawan, many people in her village are letting their daughters study and develop handicraft skills despite the limited resources available in Nosariya. Pawan's initiative has opened gates for women's empowerment in the village. "They had the skill which was needed to be groomed. Walking up to every individual's doorstep and begging them to come to the daycare centre seems to be worth it now," Pawan told VillageSquare.in.
Thanks to Pawan, many people in her village are letting their daughters study and develop handicraft skills despite the limited resources available in Nosariya.
Tie and dye
Tie and dye has quite a colourful history in the textile industry of India. It is among the oldest traditions of Rajasthan that is still in practice. As the name suggests, the art involves tying and dyeing of fabrics into various colours to bring out various patterns out of which Leherriya (wave) and Bandhej are the most common. Jodhpur and Sikar are known for their big commercial markets.
Not only has Nosariya experienced the winds of change thanks to this craft, nearby villages are also following the same track for improved livelihoods. Napasar, Sri Dungargarh, Parvati Talai are some of the villages where similar training workshops are being conducted.
The number of earning females has risen from zero to 30 in Nosariya and the urge for employment has brought over 300 women and girls to the different training daycare centres in nearby villages. Seeing an opportunity to earn, women who claimed to have no skills other than doing household chores are now attending the training workshops being organized in their villages. This kind of skill-development is introducing women to their own artistic side like never before, making them self-confident, and most importantly, preparing them to earn.
Baby Kanwar had to walk 5 km in the hot summer sun to reach the training centre. The 40-year-old attended the training at Nosariya in order to learn the technique of tying. She said she always wanted to learn but wasn't allowed to move out of her village. When she came to know of the workshop near her village, she decided to join. Baby earned an 'A' grade at the workshop and is working on her first order already.
Seeing an opportunity to earn, women who claimed to have no skills other than doing household chores are now attending the training workshops being organized in their villages.
All this has been possible because of Urmul, a Bikaner-based NGO. The skill development training was conducted in Nosariya under Urmul's income growth program. By conducting the 15-day tie and dye training workshop under the supervision of professional trainers, Urmul not only helped the women to become self-employed but also provided their art exposure.
Trial and success
With every passing day, the number of women trainees is going up more and more women realize that this could be a viable means of earning from home. For some, the first challenge was to get permission from their in-laws to gather at the daycare centre for the training. The approval soon turned into support and appreciation. "Earlier my father-in-law and husband didn't want me to go to the training centre but seeing our work they were equally excited," Jwala Kanwar told VillageSquare.in. "They were happy when I got my first remuneration."
Icharaj Kanwar, a 43-year-old woman who lives with her two daughters and husband, and sells buttermilk and ghee, said that she had never been a part of any such training before where she could explore and discover her abilities. "I've been doing only household work all my life. Now that I have learnt this art, it has become another source of income," she said. Icharaj excels in tying fabric in multiple patterns.
Revival of this traditional desert handicraft is bringing women into the foreground.
Tie and dye has become the bread and butter for many families in Nosariya. Women who had no source of income earlier other than selling milk products, are now getting small orders for making tie and dye dupattas and sarees. This earns them a little income. "I had never imagined that I could earn money on my own. It feels incredible when your hard work pays," Santosh Kanwar, one of the women, told VillageSquare.in.
Revival of a traditional handicraft
Revival of this traditional desert handicraft is bringing women into the foreground. At the same time, they are earning without moving out of their houses. This small women self-development initiative seems to have brought about an unexpected change in the village.
The new experience has already boosted confidence levels. The women now feel more responsible towards their work. "If we talk about gender equality, we are equally responsible to earn for our families, not only our men," said 30-year-old Manju Daak.
Jigyasa Mishra is a writer based out of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
This article was first published on VillageSquare.in, a public-interest communications platform focused on rural India.