India Interior

Carpet-weaving unrolls economic opportunities for these women

Usha Rai | Updated on December 28, 2018 Published on December 28, 2018

Magic carpet Making a product for the London fair Pics Usha Rai

A weaver makes balls from the yarn for weaving

In the famed carpet belt of Bhadohi, UP, the first centre to train as well as employ women in carpet weaving has come up at Nai Bazar village, Ashok Nagar, making a huge difference to the economic livelihood options for poor women, some of them from traditional weaver families wanting to upgrade their skills. What is more, they are making organic carpets whose demand is increasing in Europe.

In February 2019, some of their best carpets will be on view at the Pure London Fair on organic carpets, along with a photo of the artisan who has produced the carpet.

For overseas markets

Called Mandira Utsav, the training-cum-carpet making centre was set up by Mojopanda Exim Pvt Ltd, Delhi, in July 2017. In a large, airy, rented room, 18 to 20 women are busy making Nepali hand-knotted, tufted and flat-weave carpets and dhurries and putting the finishing touches to their creations on seven looms. There is the gentle hum of hanks of yarn being rolled into balls, countless knots being tied on looms that are 8 feet tall and then thwacked down with a hammer for thickness. Some 400 sq m of carpets and dhurries are produced by the women every six months for markets in Germany and the UK.

After six months of training, 22 women were evaluated by the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT), Bhadohi, and given certificates as well as artisan cards that would enable them to take bank loans of ₹50,000 to ₹2 lakh should any of them want to buy looms or set up their own production units.

Overseeing the Centre is Ruksar Bano, 23, a graduate and a diploma holder in advanced computer education. She doles out work to the women and ensures that orders received are executed on time and are of the required quality. She maintains the order details and registration documents on computers.

Both her parents were carpet weavers. In fact, her father came from Bihar as a 12-year-old, stayed with an uncle and learnt carpet weaving. Today, he plies an e-rickshaw and her mother is a domestic help. It was he who encouraged Ruksar to pursue her education because he said carpet weaving was hard work and there was not much money in it. The centre, she says, has given women a skill, money and job security.

Since most women have to combine house work with carpet weaving, they find it difficult to leave the village for work in the carpet companies at Bhadohi. Mandira Utsav, in the heart of Nai Bazar, is walking distance from their homes and they rush through house work to reach the Centre at 9 am and work diligently till 5 pm.

Though several women have looms at home, most of the women coming to the centre live in mud huts and have no place for a loom. The huts are dark and dingy and power supply is erratic. Coming to Mandira Utsav, which is buzzing with activity and has uninterrupted power supply, is a good option.

Nazreen Bano, 28, and Asma Begum, 40, are two master trainers of the centre. Both were in need of a steady income and joined the centre. Daughter of a weaver, Nazreen had been weaving at home before marriage. At her husband’s village there was no carpet weaving facility, so she came back to Bhadohi and is earning ₹6,000 a month. She has one child and her husband does labour work and earns ₹500-1,000 a month.

Asma is a widow with four children. Since she was an experienced weaver, she returned to Nai Bazar after the death of her husband and joined the centre. She is adept at finding and removing mistakes in woven carpets, correcting loose weaving, repairing carpets to the required size as well as binding and giving the finishing touches.

Mehtab Bano, 32, is a divorcee and mother of two who has trained at the centre and is now employed there. She had interest in carpet weaving and after her divorce came back to her parents’ home and joined Mandira Utsav to upgrade her skills and become a maker of quality carpets. Her salary, as well as of other trained artisans, has just been increased by ₹1,000 and she now earns ₹6,000 a month. She works on holidays too so that she can make additional money for her children’s tuitions. Though her father runs a tea shop, he doesn’t earn much. Mehtab, like others, finds the atmosphere at the centre congenial for work and has made many friends.

Since the monthly payments go straight into their bank accounts, there is no chance of the money being grabbed by in-laws or alcoholic husbands. Najrin, 27, has saved ₹20,000 and is happy to give loans to relatives for weddings. Though she has achieved near perfection in her Nepali, hand-knotted carpet weaving, she is eager to improve her skill in making tufted carpets with the electronic tool. “I am never short of money now,” she says. The food at home is more nutritious and once a week she indulges the family with chicken or mutton. She is also able to help her weaver husband who is epileptic and needs medicines, and works just 20 days a month.

Atma Begum, 42, is a widow. She was into weaving carpets since the age of 15 because her father could not support her education. There was initially just one loom at home and she worked on it with her father and brother. As the money trickled in, with three people working, two more looms were bought. In a day she could weave 6 to 7 inches of high-grade Nepali hand-knotted carpets of 60 to 80 counts.

At the age of 20, she got married and moved out of Nai Bazar. After the death of her husband in a storm eight years ago, she has returned to Nai Bazar and is working at Mandira Utsav, making high-quality carpets. Earlier, she made carpets valued at ₹40,000. Now her carpets are valued at ₹1 lakh.

One of the carpets she has made is displayed in the drawing room of an aunt and she is elated every time she sees the carpet. However, her 16-year-old daughter is not interested in carpet weaving because the money earned does not compensate for the hard work. Many of the children of carpet weavers, especially those who are graduates, do not want to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

It is only over the last 15 to 20 years, as the ban on engaging children in the carpet industry came into force, that the visibility of women in the sector increased. Deepankar Jana of the IICT, who evaluated the weaving skills at Mandira Utsav, says half the 3.5 to 4 lakh weavers of Bhadohi are women. Just 5 to 10 per cent work in composite units, the rest do job work from their homes. Even old women chip in, making balls of the yarn supplied to them.

The writer is a senior Delhi-based journalist

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Published on December 28, 2018
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