Punjab and Haryana are both parts of that fertile northern plain of India that was known as India’s granary. Traditionally, though women embroidered vivid phulkari bridal spreads and spun and wove the coarse khaddar which was the base cloth, and the area was also known for its fine gold-embroidered juttis, and elaborately worked ivory marquetry furniture, there was little organized craft in this rich agrarian economy, where there was little need for alternative sources of income. As the area, especially rural Punjab has suffered from falling production and demand, political upheavals, and rural migration, women are again reviving long-lost hand skills and not the only phulkari, but knitting, crochet, braiding, and rope weaving. It exciting to see Punja durries being woven again in village homes, using traditional motifs, edging the pieces with old tasselling techniques. Simultaneously they are also learning new skills – paper quilling, rag rugs, delightful jewelry made of cloth scraps….. The strength and resolution of women, assisted by the AMEX Dastkar grant, will help rebuild the shattered villages of the area.
Shramik Bharti is a non-profit, grassroots development organization working since 1986 with rural and urban disadvantaged women on safe motherhood, malnutrition, sanitation and hygiene, renewable energy resources, water security. They are also working towards utilizing traditional crafts to create marketable products which will not just keep the craft from dying out but also uplift the women producing them. Women of various villages in Punjab can spin, weave, knit, and embroider, many products can be made using these skills such as Punjab dhurries, phulkari embroidered products, knitted apparels. To further this initiative, many design development and skill enhancement workshops and exercises were done with the women artisans. Dastkar too was consulted regarding the same in the year 2019 hence starting the long association with Shramik Bharati. They have exhibited their collection at various bazaars since. The project is referred to as VIRSA, there are approximately 200 women artisans of Punjab representing 12 villages of 2 districts. Like many artisans who were badly affected by the Pandemic, many artisans of the Punjab clusters could not work for almost 6 months as they could not be paid wages. Due to no markets or no links, whatever little that was produced could not be sold. The situation was rather dire, this is when they sought out support and proposed to utilize the money allocated via American Express and Dastkar’s Artisan Support The funds were diverted to 3 craft clusters – Manja weavers who make pidhas, Punja Dhurries makers, and Azarband weaving clusters as they had been severely hit due to COVID-19. Around 50 artisans’ wages shall be dispensed using the grant money and apart from that the money shall be put to use for marketing purposes. THE AMERICAN EXPRESS-DASTKAR PROJECT – Backing Women Artisans – NOT JUST RELIEF BUT EMPOWERMENT.