Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
Gurcharan Kaur, 60 has seen it all, sitting next to her spinning wheel she talks about the first time she learnt weaving by her older sister,it was something that came naturally to her. She has been weaving since, it gives her mental peace and helps her be physically fit. Money she earns weaving is nothing compared to the happiness she gets when her work is recognized by the villagers and the accreditationshe gets because of weaving.
Gurcharan Kaur, Village Kotli, Muktsar
Malwa region is traditionally known as cotton belt of Punjab. Earlier traditional staples of cotton were grown in organic way but ever since the advent of Bt cotton, majority of cotton grown in the area is genetically modified. So called “Green Revolution” has not come without a cost. Apart from higher input costs that farmers must incur and the low minimum support price, Bt cotton has also had disastroushealth impacts on the region. Punjab once synonymous with health and prosperity now has one of the highest numbers of cancer cases in the country. Situation has become so disastrous there is a special train that runs through the region that locals call“Cancer Train” as most of the passengers are cancer patients who are travelling to Bikaner in search of subsidized treatment. Apart from cancer there are also growing cases of numerous other diseases such as reproductive ailments, genetic deformities, anaemia, diarrhoea and many skin ailments including rashers and boils.
Excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is also causing tremendous environmental damage. Surface water is contaminated with alarming levels of arsenic, chromium, cadmium, selenium and mercury mostly due to untreated wastewater from chemical factories in the region. Soil fertility is also negatively impacted, and the yields have stabilized.
Kheti Virasat Mission is an organization working towards making option of organic cotton farming available to farmers. KVM believes that organic farming will provide farmers with an alternative which will help the people of Punjab to emerge from this agricultural, ecological, economic, social, cultural and civilizational crisis.KVM has started an initiative named TRINJAN.
Aptly named after traditional place where women of the village used to gather around to practice cotton spinning, weaving, dyeing, embroidery, knitting, crochet, basket weaving, darri weaving etc. to add value to the cotton produced in the fields. TRINJAN is providing hundreds of women like Gurcharan a feasible income generating alternative and a way to use their skills to make beautiful creations from the organic cotton procured from farmers. It brings together women from diverse ages, castes and educational background and enables them to pursue their passion and share their skills with each other. Weaving is not just another job for these women it helps them connect with their culture. It gives them an identity and makes them feel proud of their work. It is an excellent way to bridge the inter generational gap as elder women sit together and share their experiences with younger women of the village, it also helps them transcending their roles as mothers, daughters, mothers in law and daughters in law and come together as a collective working towards a shared goal. This practice instils in women with the sense of liberty, identity, dignity, wisdom, self-expression and self-empowerment.
Agency of women and intergenerational sisterhood they share is central to TRINJAN
These hardworking women make beautifulcreative products including bedsheets, khesh (topsheet), towel, stoll, muffler, fabric for garments, darri, mats, rugs, woolen sweater, hand woven basket, crochet earrings, toran, coasters, wall hangings etc. There is a rising demand of organic cotton products in the market for the eco friendly and sustainability value that they provide. Initiatives like TRINJAN take these values to a higher level as they also empower women in the value chain. It is time that the consumers start understanding the value of such a collective and the meaning it has for the women involved. Once they start valuing such initiatives they would never see a product made by organic cotton just as a commodity but they would be able to see the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the women working at TRINJAN in these products.
Current situation of pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns has created not just nutritional and economic vulnerabilities for these artisans but also caused emotional fractions amongst families of women artisans due to massive unemployment, financial stress and problem of drug abuse. Disruptions in market accessled to loss of incomes of most of the artisans, there were also reports of domestic violence being faced by some artisans. TRINJAN has been trying to assist and support the financially distressed rural artisans by buying their produce in advance. Team is also in constant touch to provide emotional support by holding counselling sessions with women over the phone and providing nutritional support through ration kits and organic kitchen gardening to the landless families. TRINJAN has also done exceptional work in creating awareness about the coronavirus and preventive measures to be taken to control the spread of virus in rural Punjab. Programmes such as drawing and painting as well as story writing competition were also conducted to creatively engage with the children.
TRINJAN aims to be not just preserve but propagate and celebrate the traditional crafts practised by women in rural Punjab. It aims to revive the space that women artisans shared and where they not just showcased their skills and traditional knowledge but also the intergenerational sisterhood of rural women flourished. In providing the economic solution to the ecological crisis that ruralPunjab is facing TRINJAN wishes to enable women to reclaim their space and agency in society. For the craft enthusiasts TRINJAN has an appeal to support and enable there rural women artisans achieve their dream of utilizing their traditional skill and craft to produce sustainable clothing and weave a social fabric with a compassionate warp and dedicated weft.
Women Artisans associated with TRINJAN participating in event at Kotli, Muktsar, Punjab
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