The women of Shyam SHG (Self Help Group) and Maharani SHG from Hatheli village in Phagi district of Rajasthan are the biggest pioneers of self-dependence, I have ever encountered. As we enquired deeper and deeper into their art of Rajai Making(Quilting) and perhaps lives, fiery statements of unbound progressive thinking were served to us. These women have been employed in this business for 6 years and could start off after undertaking a loan from Apani, Milaap’s local partner.
“We make export quality quilts!” beams Banwar Kanwar, one of the eldest group members who also happens to be one of the community heads of Apani. The export market of these hand woven blankets is pretty huge and despite being a seasonal business, these women have work all year round. Describing the process, Dariyav Kanwar, another group member explains “We buy rolls of cotton and thread and cloth from Jaipur, and each hand-weaves their own Rajai(quilt) in 2-3 days sitting in the comforts of their home.” Previously employed in various sectors such as animal husbandry and contract labour, these women have tasted freedom, ease of access and self-dependence in their relatively new enterprise of Rajai making.
As a result of this, they are now able to save money and invest in their children’s education and feel financially beneficial, no more a liability. “Earlier I had to beg for money from my husband even to buy 'Churi'(bangles) of my choice, now I can buy them from my own money” gleams the newly wedded and the most recent association to Maharani SHG, Tara Kanwar. Savings from the extra income enable these women to insure their old age or medical expenses and they are proud of not being obliged to anyone for money, not even the an exploitative money lender.
“Do you want your children to take your skill forward?” I ask and get an immediate reply, “It’s their life, who are we to make the decisions of their life, but I will surely teach them the importance of self-dependence, because I wish I myself learnt it sooner” I am, of course, left baffled. Intimidated, I put forth my last question to the group, ‘how has the whole journey changed their perception of themselves’ to which Banwar ji replies, “Now, even I can pretend to be busy! Just like my husband, even I have work!” and the whole group bursts into laughter, so do I.