NEW DELHI—For women who migrated from Pakistan to India during the war of 1971, life turned around when their community craft traditions found a new market.
“After the war, these women were very frightened and never ventured out of their homes. It was then that Urmul [an artisans cooperative] started providing them work at home,” said Kusum Rani, who manages women in the northwestern city of Bikaner for RangSutra.
RangSutra is a company of thousand artisans from remote regions of India that supplies products to leading retail chains around the country and the world.
The company sells quality, handmade products that are both traditional and functional, with a goal to “ensure a fair price to the producer, as well as quality products to the customer,” it says on its website.
Badli Bai and co-worker Samu Bai represented RangSutra at the “Women of India” exhibition at a market in Delhi from Nov. 12-19, organized by the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Both Badli and Samu know over 15 embroidery stitches, many of which are unique to their community and cultural heritage.
The war led to a large-scale migration of Hindus from Pakistan to India. Many of these migrants belonged to the Sindh region of Pakistan and are generally called Sindhis.
Badli Bai was one of those immigrants, and when she was eight years old, she and her family crossed the Thar Desert by foot, walking 6-9 miles a day, to reach into India.
“We thought, ‘Let’s live in a free country,’ so we left our village in Pakistan,” Badli recalled.
Badli grew up in India but never attended school, and the only skills she knew were cooking and embroidery, which she picked up from her mother and other women in the community. In those days, women stayed in the house, looked after the children and did the cooking and cleaning. A career nor any kind of part time work were considered an option for women like her.
That changed however, when a large weavers cooperative called Urmul, founded in 1983, recognized the embroidery skills of the Sindhi community.
These embroidery techniques were used on wedding gowns and other dresses for special occasions.
Urmul provided these women with the materials and collected the finished products, “However, marketing these products always remained a problem and it was then that RangSutra was started,” said Rani.
Today, Badli works as a coordinator and manages 50 women in her community for RangSutra.
She collects designs, orders, and collects the raw materials for the company and distributes them to women in their homes.
They work with designers to tailor their products to the market, “using the traditional techniques of embroidery, weaving and printing, and incorporating traditional motifs … developed in contemporary style for the domestic as well as the international market,” the company’s website says.
RangSutra is more than just a about marketing these artisans goods, it is a community. The company is organized into producer groups based on region, which are also organized into ‘savings groups.’ Every month, each member puts aside some money so that small loans can be taken out by the members as needed.
“This savings is very useful. When an illness comes uncalled for, we take a loan and then return it. When it rains and we need money to buy seeds for the crops, we take out a loan [from the group],” said Samu.
This model is similar to how the cottage industry worked in India for many years. It ensures that, unlike where middlemen made most of the profits, Badli, and other women in their community are able to get a fair price for their work.
“Socially, craftspeople and artisans come from some of the most disadvantaged communities, with very little opportunities for self development and growth,” the RangSutra website says.
“Our goal is to ensure sustainable livelihoods for artisans and farmers, by creating top quality handmade products based on the principles of fair trade and a celebration of India’s rich craft heritage.”