File photo (Thar Artisan Producer Company Limited/Facebook)
File photo (Thar Artisan Producer Company Limited/Facebook)

Pak refugee women in Rajasthan float company to market craftwork

These women artisans were dependent on middlemen for jobs and wages. Now they are co-owners and shareholders of their company.
By Mukesh Mathrani
UPDATED ON MAR 27, 2021 07:39 PM IST

About 750 women artisans, all Pakistani refugees living in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, have started their own venture to market their handicraft work, in a bid to get free from the control of middlemen.

These women artisans were dependent on middlemen for jobs and wages. Now they are co-owners and shareholders of their company, Thar Artisan Producer Company, launched with financial assistance from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). They are also part of the board of directors and have a say in costing, planning, production and wages.

Safiyat (65), a Pakistani migrant who came to India in 1980, never thought that one day she would become a director of a company. “I experienced the pain of displacement. When I was only 14, my family got displaced from Pakistan’s Minau village in Sindh province and came to India. Initially, we took shelter in refugee camps. It is a long and painful journey to settle in India with so many hurdles,” said Safiyat.

“After reaching India, we didn’t have any job or means to survive. Whatever we inherited was left behind in Pakistan. We reached India with empty hands; our only asset was our craftsmanship,” she said.

After coming to India, the migrant families faced many challenges.

“We were living under a threat of legal action against us. Our wish was only to keep ourselves alive. Citizenship was not an easy status to get from the government. They had many questions and we had very few answers,” said Tagi Devi, a migrant from Pakistan.

These women have come from the Sindh region of Pakistan that is known for its signature handicraft work. Patchwork, appliqué, metal thread embroidery and glass work on naturally dyed clothes are in demand in the fashion world. These women create art pieces while working at home and are the bread earners for their families. Now, with their venture in place, they will try to market their folk craft directly, without working for middlemen for wages.

“The middlemen took advantage of our situation, our illiteracy and our needs. They exploited us by giving us very low wages. We were getting only 10 to 50 a day while they were earning huge amounts by selling the products made by us,” said Jarrina, an artisan and a member of the board of directors.

The NABARD will support the company with the assistance of 92 lakh for three years, after which the company has to be self-sustainable, said Dinesh Prajapat, deputy general manager and director, NABARD in Barmer.

“The first instalment of 12 lakh has been allotted to the company. It is the first such project in India supported by NABARD,” he said.

“These women have a unique talent. The products they are making have a demand all over the world. Despite their skills, they are the victims of middlemen that are exploiting them by giving low wages. It is because of these women artisans’ illiteracy and lack of marketing skills. Under this project, we will try to ensure them an opportunity to connect with the market directly and showcase their folk craft.”

A non-governmental organisation, Society to Uplift Rural Economy (SURE), which works on issues related to rural economy and women empowerment, will act as a facilitator of the project.

“SURE will act as a bridge between these female entrepreneurs and the market. Our aim is to help them in making this venture commercially successful,” said Lata Katchwah, secretary, SURE.

“We have also planned to set up a common facility centre (CFC) that will provide the required facilities to these women who have been exploited by middlemen. With this project, we are expecting that soon they will become self-sustained and get the real value of their talent,” she said.

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