| Karma Kutir trainees learn the art of kantha work. Picture by Aranya Sen
Minu Parmeet had to drop out of school, because her mother is a maidservant, her father is unemployed and she has seven sisters. After the marriage of four sisters and three more to follow, money is scarce and a job is essential. But that hasn’t stopped the 14-year-old from having an ambition. After learning kantha, batik, bandhni and toy-making in a year-long course with Karma Kutir, an NGO, she wants to set up her own little business.
“I wanted to study, but I couldn’t. Now that I have learnt all this, I want to be independent and earn. At the moment, I am going to work with the didis here (at Karma Kutir), but some day, I will do something on my own,” she smiles. Travelling every day to Gariahat Road from her home in Rajabazar, too, proved no deterrent.
Archana Das, 23, has the same inclination. With four brothers and sisters and a father who sells flowers near their Manoharpukur home, the young girl has had to struggle to find a path for herself. She wants not just to earn money, but to “do something worthwhile”, and the training at Karma Kutir’s course has equipped her with the right skills.
So, too, for Shibani Mondal, Mina Dhar and about 45 others, who are proud of the certificates they recently received after the completion of the course, at a ceremony where most of their appreciative mothers were present. “Khoob bhalo laaglo (we liked it very much),” the girls chorus, with huge grins on their faces. Karma Kutir conducts the course every year for about 50 girls, put forward by various NGOs, including CINI Asha, Tomorrow’s Foundation, Udbhas, Development Action Society and Calcutta Social Development Project.
The training, sponsored by another NGO (this year it was the Ireland-based GOAL), helps the women carve a niche for themselves in society by “being useful”, explains Samarpita Banerjee, coordinator of the project. Sometimes they face resistance from their families, “especially their fathers”, for which Karma Kutir visits the girls’ homes to educate them.
“They don’t all last till the end. It’s a question of circumstances. The men in the family are often resistant to the idea, but when we visit their houses, the men won’t speak to us,” says Banerjee. Sometimes, it’s a question of distance and travel. But often, a will to learn and a streak of determination cannot be stamped out.
“This year, we have started a number of new things,” Banerjee adds. “Like lessons in marketing and pricing products, to enable them to understand the economics of a business, to help those who want to start something on their own. We also organised field trips to handicrafts museums, like Gurusaday Museum, in Thakurpukur.”
Medical attention, too, was added to the list, “to do what we can to keep them healthy. Psychological profiles helped us to recognise that most of them don’t get the right nutrition. So, we arranged for supplements every day, like a boiled egg or a banana, for them, sponsored by GOAL. Another plus was weekly medical check-ups, with the help of mobile units from Calcutta Social Development Project and GOAL.”
But what these women appreciate the most is the fact that they interact with others their own age, share their problems and learn something new that they not only enjoy doing, but which will help them support themselves and their families in the long run.