Two of my three travels to Uttarakhand, last year, introduced me to some of the most enthusiastically independent women I have met. The first bevy was in Chirag (Central Himalayan Rural Action Group) in Kasiyalekh. Chirag is a social enterprise that works with local communities by diversifying and creating various livelihood opportunities.
In Chirag, I met an introverted group of four women. Initially they wondered what made us (I had company) stop at their workshop when the store was on the floor below. I wouldn’t really call them shy. After a few minutes, they told me that completing a stuffed toy usually took them a little lesser than a month. Impressed by their quick finesse, I asked them how much time would a pair of leg warmers take. They replied ‘3-5 days’, with a friendly shrug. This group usually provided the finishing touches of the products to standardise the look and feel.
Later in the day, we happened to cross through Kilmora. A retail store run by the non-profit Kumaon Grameen Udyog (KGU). (KGU and Chirag work closely on a certain initiatives.) KGU trains and encourages the local communities to make and sell winterwear like mufflers, caps, shawls, jackets; food items like jams, dried herbs and spices and miscellaneous products like solar lights and stuffed toys. Their products were similar to the production I saw in Chirag.
However, it wasn’t until my re-visit in October when I actually got a chance to interact with the women artisans of Kilmora.
Who are they
They are the women next door, literally. They stay in neighbouring villages, which is usually a short walk away from the store. Between their morning domestic chores and late afternoon family obligations, they make their way to the workshop and create these wonderful crafts.
What do they do
The group can be casually divided into two—one are the professional employees, who train and evaluate the women and their crafts, respectively. And the other consists of women who actually make the products.
Kamala Devi Bisht, knitting supervisor, is one of the core members of Kimora. Her work requires her to traverse across the various Kimora outlets to equip the women in the necessary skill, and supervise the quality of the creations. At the end of each work day, she checks every knitted product, weighs it, makes a note of the deductions and pays the creator for her time and labour. This is her full time job.
The other group essentially work as freelancers. They clock in the stipulated number of hours, make the products they are taught and allotted, collect their monthly wage and go home. Apart from the financial independence that this part-time job has brought to them, a majority of them told me that it also satisfied them socially. They felt like coming out of their domestic space and meeting other women made them feel confident and capable. One of them distinctly articulated that it also gave them the occasional chance of meeting strangers like me! The other job satisfaction was that they saw their names on the items they knitted. This boosted their self-worth and fuelled accountability.
How can you help
Buy local. I have seen the same products that either stores sell in distinguished shops across many metropolis. These are sold at thrice the price. However, cost is hardly the point I’m trying to make.
When I bought a woollen scarf from Kilmora, it had a name tag on it. This is the woman whose effort and time created the stylish, innovative and colourful knitwear I own today. It gave me a glimpse into her life. In space, we’re connected.
That feeling of fulfilment you will not sense, if you do buy the same product in your city.
Both the organisations invite involvement in a number of ways. If you’re crunched for time, help them financially. If you’re curious, volunteer with them. Teach, stay, cook, walk, understand and create with your hands—there is much to do here. It is magical how much we learn by giving.
Read: The Women of Spiti
How do strangers enrich your travel?