JKK’s Exhibition For Women Screamed Women Empowerment!
- IWB Post
- October 21, 2015
JWB team made its way in the scorching sun to an exclusive exhibition organized by “Mahila Bal Vikas Vibhaag, Rajasthan”, called “Rashtriya Amrita Haat”. This unique exhibition provided a platform to rural and tribal women to showcase their products free of cost, and help them earn extra income.
We followed a narrow corridor, with cobbled stones. The pathway opened up to a vast ground – and suddenly there was a flurry of activity all around us. Rajasthani music blared from the speakers, and soon we were occupied by fascinating products.
We spotted a woman wearing a bright blue sari behind an array of quirky hand-made diyas, clay hangings and other home decorative items. The intricate pottery designs made all of us squat and stare at them admiringly. Curiosity flooded through our veins, and we just needed to know more about their creator.
JWB: Has this exhibition proved to be helpful?
Radha: Yes, extremely. I belong to Udaipur, and I feel it is much better to go around the country and try to sell my products, rather than just sitting at home. The government provides us with free stalls, a place to sleep, and a bus to travel back and forth. So, most of our expenses get covered, and we get a chance to showcase our products.
JWB: But, how did you get to know about this exhibition?
Radha: I am associated with ‘Mahila Bal Vikas Samiti (MBVS)’ , an NGO, that sends us letters of invitation informing about these sort of lucrative opportunities. The samiti will be organizing a carnival in November too, for which we’ll be getting a letter as well.
JWB: You seem really excited about that! Do you get to learn something as well through these exhibitions?
Radha: These opportunities undoubtedly help us financially, but they also contribute towards our personal growth. I have learnt how to converse with people from a different society set-up. These exhibitions allow us to venture out into the world, and get exposed. Here we feel empowered, confident and independent. We feel that our lives are not limited to kids and sweating in the kitchen.
All the money that will be collected through this exhibition, will be deposited in the MBVS’s account, from where we’ll reimburse them for our transportation and other costs. Afterwards, if there is any profit left, it is split equally among all the associated women. Therefore, we get to earn as well as learn a lot.
JWB: Is your husband around? Does he support you?
Radha: No, I came alone, but husband fully supports me. These exhibitions invite women only, my husband is not hesitant to send me at all.
With smiles and a bagful of colorful diyas, we set sail. The adjacent stall was adorned with bedspreads in beautiful colors and hand work. A woman in the traditional rajputi poshak stood tall with her head covered and a huge smile on her face. She belonged to Barmer, and this is the conversation that followed:
JWB: Please tell us something about your products.
Khetu: I sell bed covers, cushion covers, cloth pieces, etc. with applique work and kantha, which I had learnt at the age of 5. Everything you see is self-manufactured and everyone in my family knows how to make them.
JWB: That’s impressive! Does your family like to participate in exhibitions like these too?
Khetu: Only the men do. My family did not want me to get associated with this samiti and visit different cities, since women are supposed to stay at home only. It was a struggle to convince my in-laws, but it was worth it. Had my husband not stood beside me in the war, I might have never got a chance to become independent!
She smiled proudly, and we started following the cobbled path once again. There were three rows of spacious stalls, and the one which was covered with food items naturally caught out eye. (Our team is ALWAYS hungry, btw).
An old lady with graying hair and a big, round red bindi was plopped on one of the plastic chairs, chomping on a khakra. We went silent for a minute, and stared greedily at all the papads, instant powder mixes, masalas, khakras and various other food items.
One of us finally broke the silence.
JWB: How do you finance your business?
Sneh Lata: Initially we too were associated with MBVS, but afterwards, 12 of us decided to form a separate co-operative where each member chips in Rs.50 every month, and the amount is given to the woman who needs it the most. She invests the money in her venture, and the profit is then equally divided among the women.
That was the end of our rapid fire round with her. We gave up and concentrated on selecting the right goodies.
After a while of munching, a chirpy woman with a wide tooth-gap selling an array of pickles caught our eye. Those glass jars with red lids filled with tasty pickles made us crave Indian food all of a sudden.
JWB: How long have you been making pickles, ma’am?
Suman: Its been almost 17 years! Making pickles is an art, which I learnt from my father.
JWB: Tell us about your journey.
Suman: My pickles were famous in my village. I belong to a small village near Bharatpur. The supervisor of MBVS contacted me, and soon I became associated with them. MBVS arranges loans for us, which we utilize for participating in exhibitions and investing in other forms of income generation. Last month, we bought a buffalo, whose milk we sell to generate extra income. We knit and weave too, for the purpose of saving money and expanding our respective ventures together, as a group.
JWB: And, how do you utilize the profits?
Suman: *She grins sheepishly* All the profit earned goes into my husband’s pocket, but I don’t mind. I’m happy my income can be used to make our home better.
As we proceeded towards the exit, we stopped for some shoe-shopping. A shy girl stood silently behind colorful traditional Rajasthani jutees. In midst of trying a pair, I managed to ask her,
JWB: Do you make these shoes on your own?
Rajni: Yes. I’ve always liked footwear, so I decided to learn the art of making and designing footwear. After years of practice, I can now make a pair in just under 2 hours.
JWB: Wow! And what do you think of this exhibition?
Rajni: More than selling my products, I like visiting new places. Opportunities like these give us an incentive to move out from our houses, to a new, unknown city. These exhibitions attract the city-people who appreciate my skills, and give me orders. It makes me feel good about myself!
These women truly personify women empowerment. Some had to rebel against their orthodox families to become independent, while some were blessed with understanding husbands. Their indigenous art and creative skills were transformed into business ideas which help them support themselves and break free from the societal shackles. How inspiring!
We urge everyone to head over to this exhibition as an expression of support and encouragement. Their hard work and determination to sell their skill and earn their living should not go to waste. #WomenEmpowered
Photo courtesy: Pallav Bhargava