Field Trip: Sadhna – A women’s handicraft enterprise

International Rural Network Forum – Udaipur 2009
Field Trip: Sadhna – A women’s handicraft enterprise
The program: Sheshwi village – a gathering to meet with local artisans; Kalan Sadan – the production unit in Udaipur; then the Sadhna Shop.

a reflection …
There were eight Forum delegates who boarded the bus to Sheshwi village, along with our guide for the day, Mudha. After about a 40 minute ride into the rural hillside we turned off the bitumen onto a dirt road and headed for Sheshwi. As the bus neared the village we drove through a flock of sheep being herded by two shepherds and then as we entered the village the bus negotiated a group of goats. Children were playing in the street and curious about we visitors. As we drove into the village centre the buildings came closer together – the road narrowed – the buildings seemed to swallow up the bus. Surely the bus would have to stop and reverse. I looked out the window and in a doorway stood a woman with a look of fright on her face – our faces were not more than a few feet from each other. But the bus continued edging its way between the buildings.
Eventually the bus stopped – but not to reverse. Simply to let us alight. [Later, when we returned to the bus it was parked in an open square, under the shade of a tree, facing the way which we had come –amazing driving.]
We edged our way around the bus, between it and the walls of the buildings and made our way down a laneway to an airy room. When we arrived there were just two women sitting on the floor in this space. Over the next 30-40 minutes, as they finished their morning house chores, another 25-30 women arrived, bringing with them their sewing.
At first our conversation, through Mudha, our interpreter, was rather stilted. We learnt that the women artisans in the village must train for three months (6 hours a day, 6 days a week) before they are able to work on commercial contracts. We learnt that upon “graduation” each woman is given a mat on which to sit to do her sewing, along with a box for her needles and threads. We learnt that Sadhna now receives large projects from clothing manufacturers. We learnt that there is a leader in the village for each group of 12-15 women. This leader is responsible for ensuring that the work is completed on time and to the required standard. We learnt that Sadhna, which has now been running for 21 years, has been so successful that it has its own superannuation scheme for members whose eyesight fails as they become older and can no longer sew; as well as an accident insurance scheme. And we learnt that there are more women wanting to work than can be accommodated by the current contracts and general demand for goods.
Then we were offered tea and a delicious brew of milky chai arrived. The women then asked us to sing a song. What could we sing? As there were two Australians and an American who knew Waltzing Matilda, we decided on that, and the Italian contingent sang a rousing version of Bella Ciao. Then it was the village women’s turn to sing, and what a beautiful song they sang; a song of “waking up”.
Now that the relationship had been nurtured with songs and drinks it was time for some more serious conversation, but not before we had each been asked if we were married and how many children we had. One of the conference delegates asked what social improvements had been facilitated by the sewing work. A young village women spoke for what seemed like four or five minutes. The interpretation (much shorter) focussed on the issue of male acceptance of the women doing paid work and bringing in an income; and the struggle, in particular for some women. Mudha told the story of the woman whose mat and box were thrown down the well by her husband. The overall impression however, was that things are improving in regard to male acceptance of the value (both economic and social) of the sewing work. When asked what their aspirations were this same young woman said that she wanted to travel some more. Sadhna has already had several overseas exhibitions which some of the women have accompanied and several of the women seemed keen to travel some more.
As I sat there in the room with these women, a sense of their happiness and well-being flowed over me. Despite the somewhat awkward situation many of the women seemed to have a serenity and peacefulness I have rarely, if ever, experienced in such a gathering.
It was then time for some simple food – seeds and grains served with that delicious sweet we had been served at the opening dinner: wee dumplings in a sweet, deep red sauce. As we thanked our hosts for their hospitality and for sharing their time and themselves with us we were asked to spread the word about their work and perhaps find some international markets for their products.
The whole time we had been in the room children had been gathering at the open doorway and as we left we had to make our way through the crowd of children eager to get close to us. Back at the bus it was photo time before heading back through the narrow streets and off to Lake Udai Sagar for a picnic lunch on our way to Udaipur to the Sadhna production unit, Kalan Sadan.
Here we saw the women at work at their sewing machines creating the garments that would go out to the villages to be embroidered. We met the woman who sources the fabrics and were shown the cottons and silks sourced from all over India. We saw the cutting out tables, and the sample making. [Each leader from the villages will come in and create a sample for a new order, then take it back to the village and teach her group the embroidery design.]. We saw the women on the irons – what hot work in a hot city.
Then it was off to the Sadhna shop where we shopped, and shopped.

Genevieve Noone
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One Response to “Field Trip: Sadhna – A women’s handicraft enterprise”

  1. PHP Application Development Says:

    Hi There,
    It providing an alternative means of livelihood and income augmentation for the women of rural, tribal and urban slums in of region. Having started with a small group of women who were trained in the skill of appliqué embroidery and other works.

    Thanks,
    mick

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