A happy mother’s day!
This mother’s day, for some reason, a thought came to mind- what about all the mothers out there who are struggling to feed, bring up and grow their children against all odds- poverty, wars and calamities?
What can we do as fellow mothers to make their lives a bit easier?
An organisation springs to mind. It is an organisation with a story. Many years back, I read this story and for some reason, it just stayed on in memory( some stories are indeed so powerful). Many more years ago, a lady was running a school in Lucknow, educating poor children. She saw a mother of four breaking a piece of bread into four parts to feed all of them. A piece of bread was all she could afford with her sparse earnings, as a chikankari worker. The middlemen took all the profit.
The lady educator realised education was not enough. She took it on, to create a self help group for these women, to create and sell their own chikankari work directly to the buyers. Thus augmenting their income. Over years, the Self help group grew by leaps and bounds, and established itself as a known name for chikankari products. Beautifully embroidered kurtis, sarees, Dupattas and more; mostly sold through exhibitions they hold. Training, advocacy,skill building activities- everything came under their banner. Awards and accolades- including the Bharat Ratna poured in for the lady who started it all ; but the biggest award of all – in my view – is the difference she made to the lives of many mothers and their children, The organisation is Sewa Lucknow; and the founding lady is Runa Banerjee. A true story of empowerment. I truly beleive , and the story shows how – “When you empower a mother, you empower her children, the society and the whole gennext”.
Do check out www.sewalucknow.org- I have bought many of their exquisite products at exhibitions ( mostly through FabIndia) . They bring such joy- the beautiful embroidery of course; and also the thought of contributing in a small way to such a benevolent, visionary ecosystem. Have never met Runa Banerjee – would love to though!
Kudos to her and Happy Mother’s day, once again to all the lovely mothers out there…
About Chikankari ( from Sewa Website)
The origins of chikankari (Hand Embroidery) are shrouded in mystery and legend. As early as the third century B.C. Megasthenes wrote of the fine flowered muslin worn by Indians in the court of Chandragupta Maurya, perhaps the first historical reference of chikan. It seems likely that chikankari was prevalent in East Bengal during the reign of the Mugal emperors, from where it came to Lucknow in the 18th century during the time of Nawabs fo Avadh, and where it flowered into an art of exquisite refinement.
The city of Lucknow, India, evokes emotions and reactions of wondrous nostalgia. It’s culture blends aesthetics, refinement, elegant graciousness and impeccable mannerisms with evocations of poetry, music and other distinctive art forms. Amongst these has been the delicate art of very fine “Hand Embroidery” which is termed as “Chikankari” famed not only in the oriental world but prized in all citadels of culture. It is noteworthy that during this period the Master craftsmen were all men.
This highly acclaimed craft fell to abysmal depths once the patronage of the erstwhile Nawabs and landowners ended. It was relegated to a low standard ill paid commercial activity in which almost entirely, only women were involved. Manufacturers used middlemen to exploit women artisans who were not only very poor but also women cloistered and in “Purdah”. (Behind the curtains)
Children were the worst sufferers as poverty paved its way for them to go through pains of malnutrition, unhygienic living conditions and illiteracy. For family’s survival, extra earning became a need and the children became a victim of circumstances as they were dragged to work. These findings on the conditions of Chikan workers and their children came out very conspicuously from a study done by the founders of SEWA – Lucknow on child labour which was sponsored by UNICEF in 1979.
Since 1979 there were constant interactions with the community for understanding the need of becoming self-reliant as well as a support for the earning members in the family. Regular value and earnings for their work that would enable them to contribute respectable amount in the family.
In 1984, Thirty-One women came together to register an organization of women artisans under the 1860 Society’s Registration Act for “CHIKAN KARI.” “Self Employed Women’s Association” (SEWA – Lucknow) was thus formed with a major agenda of doing away with the middleman and the organization to act as a platform from where the artisans would address the market directly. For many, profit, acclaim and may be the craft itself are central issues, for SEWA-Lucknow it was, is and will always be the craftswoman moving to increasing excellence in her vocation as well as in the quality of her life.
Kudos and Happy Mother’s day, once again to all,,,