Reshma Dutta with some of her creations at a show in Calcutta last week
Wind chimes and necklaces may seem unlikely tools of empowerment, but that is exactly what they have been for scores of women in Bundu, who have learnt how to create models and jewellery out of humble clay for a living.
On display at a recent show in Calcutta were examples of what started out as an initiative of 40-year-old sculptor Reshma Dutta in 2000 with only 10 women. Today, its a 120-strong force that churns out clay creations, makes handmade soaps, cultivates paddy and tries out fish farming — all under the banner of Aadhar in the red zone next to Ranchi.
For the women, many of them abandoned by their husbands with children to school and feed, it has meant a steady source of income, and a way out of abject poverty in a region where means to earn a livelihood are limited.
For Reshma too, it has been a fulfilling journey.
After completing her schooling from Bishop Westcott in Ranchi, Reshma studied sculpture in Shantiniketan and MS University, Baroda. What followed was a few years of travel to Japan and then closer home to Kerala and Bangalore, when Reshma did freelance assignments but realised that city life was not for her. It was in 1999, while she was Sri Sri Ravishankar’s ashram in Bangalore that Reshma decided to return to her ancestral home in Bundu on the advice of the spiritual guru.
Once home, Reshma got down to training a handful of local women, who had absolutely no background in pottery, in modelling clay and using the electric wheel to create ceramic artefacts. That was in 2000.
As word spread, more women came forward to learn. As many lived in remote villages, they would come to Bundu once in days when they would be given the designs for the jewellery or the aretefact they had to make. The costing too would be done by the women, taking into account material needed. The idea was to ensure that the women got to make at least Rs 100 per day, over and above costs, which would mean a steady Rs 3,000 for the family every month.
Help came in the form of bureaucrat Rajbala Verma, who took keen interest in the work Reshma was doing. Funding from the government followed in 2007, when Aadhar received a Rs 10 lakh grant. By then, more than 40 women were involved in the project.
In 2008, Aadhar sent 15 of the women, who had never stepped out beyond Bundu in their lives, to NID in Ahmedabad, for training in clay modelling. Soon, the others gathered the confidence to carry their products to exhibitions around the country to sell. So while Jharcraft remained the biggest outlet for the products, handicraft fairs had the women’s creations on display as well.
Today, the women are paid a commission if they can come up with new designs.
This incentive has brought to the fore some amazing creativity, like for instance that of 18-year-old Devanti Naik. A polio patient, Devanti was one of four siblings, one blind, struggling to make ends meet. The training at Aadhar provided the girl the platform to design clay wind chimes, which today find ready buyers wherever they are sold. Her 24-year-old brother Hemant, who displayed his traditional pottery in Calcutta alongside Reshma’s own creations, joined the Aadhar fold as well, one among a handful of men whose lives have also changed for the better.
Among the men are two former rebels. They work on the 10 acre that Aadhar grows paddy, wheat, mustard and vegetables on. When asked if the law and order situation in Bundu had ever proved to be an obstacle, Reshma replied to the contrary. “We have never faced any problems because of the kind of work that we do,” she said.
Now, Reshma has started training women in making shellac bangles and handmade soaps as well. A water body near the workshop is where mariculture is being pursued on a small scale. And for the women of Bundu, the new initiatives are only extensions of the success stories they made out of clay.