Meet the Weavers from Sathanur | Weaving Project
Meet the Weavers from Sathanur
One of Development Alternatives'(DA) projects is a weaving scheme in Sathanur village, Karnataka. Some of the weavers share their personal accounts with us... although sometimes bleak their experiences are those of many women in village India. They are stories of coping -- of somehow managing to survive and support families in often impossible situations. Their accounts tell of sadness but also of strength. It is this strength that will ultimately bring about sustainable livelihoods in their communities.
[Note: The names of the women in this article have been changed to protect their privacy]
Mumta and Aditi are sisters. They don't know their age exactly but believe they are between 25 and 30. Mumta is the eldest by two years. They are wearing brightly coloured saris, and with their hair pulled back in long braids they could almost pass for college students. But although smiling, their eyes are tired.
They have lived in Sathanur, a small village about 75km from Bangalore, all their lives. The monsoons are highly irregular here and the villagers can cultivate only one crop per season. The rest of the year the men usually migrate in search of labour. About half of the population are scheduled tribe or scheduled caste (ST / SC), mostly living below the poverty line. There are no major industries situated within a radius of 40 km of the village. Local employment opportunities in the region are virtually non-existent.
"... We never got a chance to go to school."
There were seven children in their family - 6 girls and 1 boy. Both women never attended school. Mumta recalls, "I am the first child so I never got educated. Since we were both born earlier we never got a chance to go to school." They are both illiterate, although able to sign their names. Aditi, explains, "We didn't realize when we were young about going to school. Our father had so many children so he had no choice."
"... They wanted girls to do the cooking and cleaning jobs."
At the age of twelve both girls were married to male relatives in the village. Mumta says, "We didn't know anything at all at that age. We were married to our relatives... they were maybe 18-20... I married an uncle and she married a cousin. In both families there were no girls - no women - so they wanted girls to do the cooking and cleaning jobs." Aditi, adds, "the people we were married to were not well off - they were also not educated and were doing odd jobs for survival."
Both women have three children, ranging in age from seven to 14. "After marriage," Mumta says, "we faced a lot of difficulties. Generally we had a lot of work to do. We had to take care of the house and come out to work. We had to take care of our children and husband. Really life was much more difficult after marriage!"
Aditi says, "when our children started to grow up we realized that we needed to work so we started doing odd jobs. We earned Rs 15 per day. We used to do odd jobs and work as labourers in agriculture. Our husbands also have no land so they also do odd jobs."
DA began working in Sathanur since 1990, when it started a training programme for SC / ST women in handweaving on the TARA loom. DA trained 20 women in 1990-91 and they have been weaving for a livelihood ever since. Many of these women have trained the men and children in their families and they now can earn on average Rs 1000 per month. DA has continued to train more women in weaving and spinning and opened a training and production centre in the village. As well they have found markets for the cottons and silks being produced, enabling nearly 50 silk spinners and five handweavers to earn decent wages (ranging from Rs 30 to Rs 60 per day).
"We tried to learn what we could. We worked hard and we were asked to continue."
Mumta says, "They (DA) came in with the feeling that we had to learn and work and make our living. About 20 people were trained together. We were trained in different batches. We tried to learn what we could. We worked hard and we were asked to continue. Only four or five of us stayed on." Some of the women dropped out because they married and moved to different villages. Others had only been interested in collecting the training stipend.
"Our husbands are drinking a lot and that is a big problem."
The women are quiet for some time then they begin to talk of life beyond work. Of areas in their lives that are not so trouble free...
Aditi, says, "Our husbands are drinking a lot and that is a big problem. We try to stop them but they say labouring is a very physical kind of work. They say they'll die if they don't drink. It's bad if they drink but it's an even worse problem if they don't have money for drinking. Suppose he earns Rs 50, then he will spend Rs 30 on drink; that leaves only Rs 20 to manage the house. Sometimes he might even earn more - for example if he gets some construction work - but then he just drinks more."
Aditi says, "Salaries at DA are often delayed. Sometimes my husband demands the money and asks, 'what kind of work is this that you don't get paid monthly?'... He says, "you take money from me so why shouldn't I take it from you?" she adds. "He forces me to give him the money which I make which he then uses for drinking. On average I get Rs 800 - 1000 a month and of that my husband takes about Rs 500 for drinking. I have to manage with the rest."
Aditi says "my husband keeps telling me not to work and he doesn't like me buying things, but for the daily things I know I have to work so I keep going. But it causes problems. I have to work to meet my families needs. He gets violent though...he beats me... He also used to beat me before I worked for DA."
The sisters continue, "Our husbands don't do anything in the house. We do all of the work. Most of the work we do in the morning and then again in the evening we work. Sunday we do the washing." Aditi says, "The day to day routine things we take care of on our own. We take these decisions our selves. For the bigger things, like marrying our children for example our husband takes the decision."
"In the past we had a lot of instability. Sometimes we had work and sometimes we didn't. Now things are better."
The women are paid according to how much they produce. Aditi, says, "in a month we're paid by how much we weave. We work from nine in the morning to five thirty in the evening, with a break of one hour for lunch. We work six days per week. We usually earn between seven hundred and eight hundred per month. We have never gone beyond a thousand rupees." Mumta, adds, "We have no problems as long as there are orders [for cloth]. The problem is only that salaries are not paid on time."
Mumta, notes, "Although we are working these days, still no one in our homes or in the village is listening to us. It is the same since we are working. People coming from outside think that we have learned a good deal and we are now earning but we know the truth. The money is just going. The only advantage we have now is that our finances are a little better but our life has not changed in any way." Aditi reminds her sister, "In the past we had a lot of instability. Sometimes we had work and sometimes we didn't. Now things are better."
Moving Towards Sustainable Livelihoods
"We women are hard workers. That is our strength."
Both women agree, "We like what we are doing. We would like our children to also have such a job." Mumta says, "it's true. Our bosses are nice."
Aditi, explains, "We didn't realize when we were young about going to school. Our father had so many children so he had no choice. Now we know the value of education though, so we are working hard to educate our own children." Her older sister concurs, " We are very firm on educating our children. We will work and do whatever it takes but we will educate them."
When asked about improving things, Mumta says, "One improvement which would be good is if we could have a small time loan scheme. Sometimes we have to ask for 200 or 300 rupees. But the major thing is we want to have our salaries increased." She thinks for a while and then adds, "We help each other though. We lend and borrow money." Aditi smiles and nods, "We also try to help women when there are fights - we try to intervene... We women are hard workers. That is our strength."
In many ways, Aditi and Mumta paint a rather bleak picture of struggling to survive in the face of tremendous hurdles of domestic abuse, powerlessness and alcoholism. Life for these women is not easy and obviously it will take more than a steady income to make their livelihoods sustainable in the fullest sense of the term.
Creating sustainable livelihoods requires more than just providing a steady paycheck. Many of the problems in Sathanur are very deeply rooted and will take a great deal of time and effort to resolve. It would be misguiding to suggest that DA's presence instantly solves all local problems. If we are to learn how to create sustainable livelihoods it is more important to share actual situations then to paint every picture as an instant and unqualified success story.
One thing is certain, though -- DA and the villagers are committed to improving life in the region. The weaving project is an excellent beginning. Continue on to find out more about the weaving project and future plans in the village.
Meet the Weavers from Sathanur | Weaving Project