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Humans privileged by birth start taking things[rs1]  for granted. w[rs2] e become slave to luxury and money,[rs3]  Greed runs us. I don’t question them or myself because if the roles were[rs4]  reversed, something very similar would perhaps happen.  The cycle needs to be broken and it must be done by the present[rs5]  generation of youth. India is in a very important phase in its growth and development as most of its populations is young. It is the right time to channel our energy towards positivity and refrain from any negativity arising from politics, discrimination based on caste, creed, sex, religion or socio-economic status.

What emotions go through you when you have to leave a place you have been calling home for centuries? How would you feel when you are told to vacate that home with nothing but bare necessities? How would you feel when you stay in random parts of a desert for weeks with limited resources? How would you feel when[rs6]  part of your family is left behind whom probably you would never meet again? To know read on…

Five months into the fellowship I got a chance to visit Dhanau village in the heart of Barmer district in Rajasthan. Dhanau is located approximately 40 Kms from the India-Pakistan borders. It along with other villages in Barmer district, is at the centre of most of the beautiful embroidery, patchwork and other textile handicrafts that we associate with Rajasthan. They practice a traditional craft that has been passed down from one generation to another. It has been preserved from one generation to another and it is now in the hands of other people worldwide to help them preserve this traditional craft by providing them with a rural livelihood incentive. Therefore, it has always had a very special place in my heart[rs7]  since I decided to work for the Promotion and Development of Rural Handicrafts as a project under my SBI YFI Fellowship programme.

I started work on E-Commerce Development to set up a fair-trade market place and construction of a design lab at Barefoot College Tilonia[rs8] .  To enable my work I needed, wanted and desired to better understand the artisans. I wanted to know what little could be done from our side to make their work easier. what could be done to preserve our traditional crafts?

There are basically two kinds of artisans in and around Dhanau village. My initial encounter was with the first category of artisans who had always been Indian. These artisans owned lands and worked on the handicrafts to supplement their income. They are poor yet happy. They are well fed, may have a pucca house (A rare sight in these villages) and hope for getting a better future. They are paid double the amount by Hatheli Sansthan (The Handicrafts Section at Barefoot College) for the same work as the private players in the market so they are happy and content.

Then I met the second kind - the refugees of the 1971 India-Pakistan war. We talked to women belonging to a wide range of ages (50-107). Some of them were kids during the war and just remember that they had to save their lives. They remember how the desert was their bed and some food supplies from the government their only resource. The older ones paint a clearer picture.

When I was told about a woman artisan aged 107, I had expected someone on the bed barely able to speak. But when we entered the house we found her out in the verandah working on embroidery. Her work was still better than some of the younger artisans. She looked at us with no feeling whatsoever. Our translator for the day Premalatha Ji asked the elderly lady whether she would be interested in giving us an interview. At first, she did not understand why random strangers would want to talk to her but then she liked our company and started telling us how she left Pakistan when she was 60 years old. One of her sons was left behind with whom contact was established only after 2005. For 34 years, she had not known whether her son was alive or not.

She started embroidery as her only source of income. Her other sons ran a carpentry workshop out of Jodhpur initially and now have shifted to Barmer. She still does not depend on her sons. She earns 800 rupees per month through handicrafts and gives the whole sum as a contribution to the family income. Her eyes tell a tale of determination, endurance and adaptability – virtues that truly make us human. At the end of our conversation I understood what empowering women meant in its true sense. This iron lady was the epitome of it. In testing times she had been empowered through her skill at handicrafts which instilled in her self-confidence and self-pride. She cherishes the feeling so much to this day that she continues to do her work with vigour.

She was just one out of the many strong women I met during these interviews. Women who buy their own medicines, fund their children’s education and run households. They feel empowered because there is money that they can earn through a tradition that they learn when they are seven. While most privileged urban kids are busy playing, throwing tantrums and pranking people there are whole communities whose kids are learning a traditional art that would empower them for the rest of their lives.

Hatheli Sansthan has done tremendous work in giving these artisans a fair trade wage and providing them with health camps, training and other such initiatives. I as a volunteer with the organization will work on to propagate this further. My time with them made me realize what I could do for the rest of my life. I felt strongly for the future generations of such traditional artisans. I also realised how they may be a very small set out of the millions of such sets spread across this vast and diverse country. Every set having their own problems and trying to find their own solutions. Maybe one day I will be able to become a catalyst in their development, may be one day these women will be able to run their own enterprises and would not depend on NGOs like Barefoot. ONE DAY MAY BE.