India Interior

Picking up the threads in Punjab

Rina Mukherji | Updated on August 07, 2020

Project Trinjan has helped resurrect the concept of women’s collectives to revive traditional crafts

“Trinjan” in Punjabi roughly means a women’s collective — a space where rural women gather to spin or weave and use the time spent together to talk, counsel and learn from each other.

Today, Trinjan spells empowerment for hundreds of women in the scattered villages of Barnala, Faridkot and Muktsar districts in the fertile Malwa region of the State. It has turned into a movement to revive traditional crafts of durée weaving, basket and khes making.

The Trinjan initiative is a by-product of the campaign that laid the foundation of the Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM) in Jaitu, Faridkot district, way back in 2005. A brainchild of journalist-turned-activist Umendra Dutt, KVM came into being as a voluntary organisation when Dutt came face-to-face with the fallout of the Green Revolution — pesticide-related cancer in the farming districts of Punjab.

Dutt and his team of professionals decided to woo farmers back to time-tested methods of cultivation. To meet nutritional needs of the people, a balanced, chemical-free diet was key. For this, KVM embarked on a mission to train farmers in organic cultivation and wean them away from use of chemical pesticides.

To date, 25,000 farmers have been trained in organic farming, and women in 60 districts initiated into growing vegetables and greens. KVM has ensured that many Punjab farmers, particularly in the Malwa region, have gone back to cultivating the traditional organic short-staple cotton that had once been the mainstay of rural Punjab.

However, even as social workers of KVM toured villages to build a successful kudrati aahar (natural nutrition) movement, they found a huge vacuum where traditional crafts had once prospered.

Rupsi Garg, a young development professional, who joined KVM in 2018, strongly felt that the dots needed to be connected for the organic movement to thrive in the State. Visits to villages in Faridkot and adjoining districts led her to discover that there were hardly any weaving families left to carry on Punjab’s age-old handloom traditions. For instance, in Batala district, there was just one weaver — Saffia Begum. Similarly, Baba Gurnam Singh was the only weaver who worked on the handloom on the outskirts of the State capital.

Determined to revive Punjab’s artisanal traditions, KVM, under Garg, decided to rebuild the Trinjan space and make villages self-sufficient. Since most weaving families had moved out of their traditional craft, the revival posed many challenges. “We had to sort things out. Although the women were familiar with the craft, charkhas and looms had to be provided to some,” Garg explains. Yet, despite limited resources, KVM managed to kick-start the collective.

She tracked down women like 84-year-old Jangeer Kaur of Chasna village, Faridkot district, who continues to spin yarn despite her advanced years, as also 57-year-old Sinderpal Kaur of Kotli village in Muktsar district, who has been weaving since she was seven! Garg stumbled upon many inter-generational enterprises where entire families were engaged in the craft, for instance, that of Sukhdev Kaur from Kotli village, Muktsar district. The spinner, in her 70s, is assisted by daughter-in-law Gurmeet Kaur and granddaughter Raman Kaur.

The three women work on the short staple cotton produced on their land. They do the ginning, carding and spinning to produce the attis (thread balls), which are then naturally dyed and sent to be woven into cloth. Similarly, there is Sukhjeet Kaur in the same village, who along with her daughter-in-law Harpreet Kaur, specialises in weaving the khes (bedspread) and duree (rug). There is also 60-year-old Gurcharan Kaur who weaves only khaddar fabric. A weaver can make an average of ₹200 per day, which is much-needed financial empowerment for a woman and earns her respect within her community.

Trinjan has also roped in youngsters like 18-year-old Rimpy Kaur who is a trained designer. She helps to revive traditional natural dyeing techniques which once characterised Punjab’s handloom cloth. This has meant using dyes made of local babool bark, marigold, spinach, carrot, pomegranate leaves and onion peels.

The durees, however, continue to use chemical dyes, though efforts are on to replace them with natural alternatives. Inspired by Trinjan’s vision, youngsters like Ramandeep Kaur, a post-graduate in computer applications, have now opted to return to the family tradition of spinning yarn. So has 26-year old Gagandeep Kaur, who has taken to embroidery out of sheer love of the craft.

Today, there are 300 women enlisted under Trinjan, spinning, weaving and creating a plethora of products. Trinjan, on its part, helps market the products through events like Bebe di Rasoi and Trinjan mela that are organised by KVM in cities from time to time. The artisans’ market the product themselves at these events minus the middlemen.

Trinjan is active in 12 villages in three districts of Faridkot, Muktsar and Barnala, and hopes to spread its wings in others too.

The writer is a freelancer based in Pune

Published on August 07, 2020

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