Bags made by women in small villages of West Bengal have reached a conference in Chennai.
Selaighar (tailoring unit) is an initiative to generate sustainable employment opportunities for women in Sagar island and a few other villages on the fringes of Baruipur in South 24-Parganas.
Many of these women believe that the recognition and the earnings from stitching bags and clothes will help them support their families or their children’s education.
“The money is hard-earned and I need it,” said a woman, who rears cattle by the day.
Most of these women work only after completing their household chores, sometimes in the dead of the night.
In one such unit at Kanthalberia in Baruipur, the women have made 80 bags for a conference in Chennai.
This vocation has empowered them and helped them look beyond their village where the menfolk are primarily engaged in growing guava.
The women help in the fields, raise children, do the household chores and then go to Selaighar.
“The women can spare only a couple of hours in the afternoon for Selaighar because they have commitments at home. Some of them were apprehensive that the work at Selaighar might interfere with their household responsibilities. But most of them complete their day’s work and maybe sit through the night or wake up early in the morning to complete an order,” said Dipalika Banerjee Joshi, a member of the governing body of Purono Kolkatar Golpo Society.
Selaighar is the initiative of the Society and the first such tailoring unit came up in December 2020. They started with about 20 women and now have four units with over 80 women.
They gave the women sewing machines and trained them in stitching.
Since that is not enough the Society tries to find a market for their products by organising exhibitions and arranging for sales and orders.
One of the units has managed to get an order for school uniforms. The materials, including threads and buttons, are being provided by the Society.
“It is satisfying that what we are making here in our village is being used by people in cities. I didn’t know that I was capable of it,” said Mousumi Das, from Rudranagar in Sagar island.
The money she earns from stitching is used for the education of her children and for her son to learn tabla.
Krishna Das, 30, at a unit in Bamankhali finds time to stitch after working in a private school from 10am to 3.30 pm.
“The school pays me Rs 2,500 and the stitching adds to that income. I need the money so I have to find time for it,” she said.
“Over the months I have learnt to stitch kurtis and palazzos.”
Banerjee Joshi of the Society said: “We want these women to earn money and also get their share of recognition. They are struggling not just economically but to create their own identity.”
The Society had started with relief work in the Sunderbans after Cyclone Amphan in May 2020 but realised that they needed a long-term solution and not just aid at the time of calamity.