It is 5 AM and Kiran is hurrying to get the morning meal ready. Dawn is just about to break in Jhag, a small Rajasthan village about 40 km from Jaipur, and the young woman is eager to finish all household chores before she reports for her new job — a development that has given her a taste of economic freedom.

Kiran and her next door neighbour Mamta are part of a group of 11 women identified and trained in the Ajrakh process of block printing under ethnic-wear retailer Fabindia’s cluster development programme and are now ready to be part of the workforce.

“It is very exciting to work outside the house and I share a table (for block printing) with my neighbour and friend, Mamta. It can be tiring as one has to do the household work as well, but I can use the money that I earn to buy nicer clothes for my children and give them better education,” said Kiran taking a break from her work.

The block printing process observed in Jhag village draws in part from the Ajrakh process, but largely has its roots in the region itself.

“This cluster had been engaged in printing for over 120 years. Today, however, only one family, Prahlad Naagar’s, is involved in printing in a village of over 750 households. For Fabindia, women empowerment was the central idea for the adoption of this cluster,” points out Pamelaa Koul, production hub head, Jaipur, Fabindia.

Fabindia’s interest in nudging women from Jhag to carry forward their village’s traditional block-printing craft, under the mentorship of Naagar, also stems from the increased demand for hand-printed ethnic items in the domestic market.

According to the company, the rising popularity of hand-printed fabric and garments in the domestic market had led to a four-fold growth in its sourcing from Rajasthan over the past three-four years with more than a third of its total cloth being supplied by the State.

With a large number of retailers, including online companies such as Jaypore, Itokri, Gaatha and Jaipurfabric, reaching out to customers across the country, the enlarged market is slowly improving the livelihood of many craftspersons and affiliated workforce in Rajasthan.

Artisans now earn anything between ₹8,000 and ₹18,000 per month depending on the amount of work they do.

“About six-seven years ago, it was not possible for me to earn as much as I am earning today as there was neither enough demand nor was the payment good. Today, I earn around ₹16,000 per month. My son, who is young and more efficient, earns more,” said Hanuman from village Bagru who works for master craftsman RK Derawala.

Derawala, who has been awarded the Padmashri for his contribution to promotion of Indian handicraft, belongs to the Chhipa community in Bagru which has been practising its tradition for roughly 450 years. He specialises in Dabu, an ancient mud resist hand block printing technique from Rajasthan.

“There is a huge increase in demand over the past few years for block printed cloth. I have put up 24 tables in my workshop and have also provided tables to 40 households in the village who work for me. There is now enough work for my entire village of over 400 families,” Derawala said.

The travel for this story was organised by Fabindia