मंगलवार, 10 नवंबर 2009

Varanasi Weavers

An introduction to the situation and the solution

Varanasi and its enduring tradition
Varanasi is a sacred place in Northern India. For more than 1,000 years this city has been home to the largest number of handloom weavers in India.

Venerated by Kings, saints, sinners and paupers; all drawn to its crowded river banks – Varanasi has a long culture of art and devotion. It has been one of the seeds of Indian writing for years. There is a special fervour in the populace and piety is a given attribute.

Hidden in the lanes and alleys of a very old city lies the threads of a tradition thousand years old. Here sits a community of weavers weaving magic into limp silk. For them it is not a profession. Rather it is their worship, an ode to the beauty of the world. Varanasi fabrics shimmer in their rainbow palette of colours, designs intricate and bold and a unique aesthetic sensibility.

The Crisis
Despite a beautiful tradition, looms are lying silent today and many have even been sold off. The devoted weaver has been pulled into the compulsion of modern life i.e. seeking any available livelihood. These weavers been pushed to the fringe of their community.

One of the main reasons is the product itself. The Silk Sari is no longer the main attire for the modern Indian woman and is reserved for special occasions like marriage. Another key reason is that the market is constantly being flooded by cheap machine made substitutes from other countries. These are cheaper in price and quality, are poor pretenders of the regal Varanasi silk and yet find a great market amongst the modern day shoppers who cannot tell the difference. Another crisis facing the weavers is that the traditional techniques are not viable today. The products need to be modernised and made usable as well as wearable in the contemporary context.

The compulsion of earning for their families looms large and many weavers have entered into professions like rickshaw pulling or construction labour and several are beginning to forget the art itself. The younger generation is not able to find it feasible to follow the family tradition anymore.

The Varanasi Weavers Project – A solution
We believe in the speciality and indigenousness of the craft of the Varanasi silk. It is a product that is as relevant and desirable today as it was before and is suffering from not being updated. Our efforts are to bring creative solutions to this situation and make it appropriate for the modern times.

Through this project some of our achievements have been:
Retraining of the weavers’ community.
Reorienting the products to more contemporary designs while maintaining and drawing upon the traditional skills and aesthetics.
We have done research towards making the Varanasi silk ready for modern day use. The silk which could previously only be dry cleaned is now sturdy and light enough to be machine washed. The fabrics are colour fast and the zari (the silver and golden threads used for weaving designs on the fabric) has been worked upon to make it more robust.
An old and lost craft has been revived, that of the beautiful Varanasi Buttons. The women have been trained in this product and they are now earning members of their family along with the men.
New markets have been explored and the weavers now have business with a private hotel chain and other private companies.
Today we have about 60 weavers who have joined the project and we have 90 women working and earning from the Varanasi buttons project. The project area is 3 villages around Varanasi.

Our Range
The outcome of the project is a range of materials and products that are very much rooted in the modern day context. The ease of use of the material and comfort of the wearer is emphasised in the new avatar of the Varanasi silk. The materials used are pure silk in black and natural colours. The motifs have been woven using zari and natural silk threads. The designs are simple lines and clean cut, for easy and comfortable wear. The motifs showcased are inspired by the traditional aesthetics of the weavers and the overall feeling is one of comfortable luxury.

Visit us for the more products at

About us
Upasana Design Studio
Upasana Design Studio based in Auroville (www.auroville.org), Tamilnadu, India is an open space for creativity and design in all its forms. We believe in Integral Design, where the product, the producer, lifestyles and traditions are all linked and given equal importance in the process of design. Upasana has been working extensively with Indian traditional textiles and techniques.

For more details please contact:

Auroville (T.N)
Pudducherry – 605101

Varanasi office

3-Maa janki apartment
Sant raghubar nagar
email -- varanasiveavers@upasna.in

Phone No.: +91-542-6455995
Website: www.upasana.in

रविवार, 4 अक्तूबर 2009

फोर्ड फाउंडेशन इंटरनेशनल फेलोशिप प्रोग्राम

The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program (IFP) seeks to build a new generation of social justice leaders in India by offering access to quality higher education. IFP especially supports candidates from groups that have historically lacked access to higher education.

In the last eight years, IFP India has selected 280 Fellows for Masters and PhD degrees. Of these, 200 Fellows have already completed their studies. Over seventy five percent have returned to India to begin careers in the social sector creating value for their regions and communities. IFP India helps returned fellows (alumni) raise their capacities through knowledge, skills and networks to become effective leaders working to improve lives in their communities.

Applications for 2010 are now open. Applicants should :

� Be Indians currently residing and working in the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh or Uttarakhand. They should have faced some socio-economic disadvantage in their access to quality education.

� Hold a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree from a recognized Indian university with at least 55% marks.

� Have at least three years’ full-time work experience relevant to their proposed area of study. They should also have experience in leadership and community service or development related activities.

Forty candidates will be selected following an intensive search and selection process. The Pre Application and Final Application Forms will be reviewed and evaluated by panels of experts from academia, the social development sector and other related disciplines. Shortlisted candidates will be further screened through regional and national interviews.

The IFP India Program will assist selected fellows in university admission process, paying for travel, tuition fees, living costs and logistical arrangements related to their study programs. The Information Sheet and Pre-Application Form can be downloaded from www.ifpsa.org. The deadline for pre-applications is 15 December 2009.

The Information sheet and Pre-Application form are enclosed. Please pass this on to eligible candidates and encourage them to apply. Thank you so much for your support.

We would also appreciate it if you could email us at ask@ifpsa.org the full addresses and contact details of 10 important persons (from NGO's, Academia & Media) in your state to whom we can also forward IFP materials for dissemination.

शनिवार, 25 जुलाई 2009

बस, अब तो मत मारो

घर भर को जन्नत बनाती है बेटियाँ॥!
अपनी तब्बुसम से इसे सजाती है बेटियाँ॥
पिघलती है अश्क बनके ,माँ के दर्द से॥!
रोते हुए भी बाबुल को हंसाती है बेटियाँ॥!

हंसती मुस्कुराती खिलखिलाती बेटियाँ
हर मुश्किल को हंस के सुलझातीं
बेटियाँ माँ बाप की आंखों का तारा बेटियाँ
उनके बुढापे का सहारा बेटियाँ
हर अल्फाज़ का इशारा बेटियाँ
हर खुशी का नजारा बेटियाँ

फूल सी बिखेरती है चारों और खुशबू,
फ़िर भी न जाने क्यूँ मार दी जाती है बेटियाँ

एक नहीं दो परिवारों की शान है बेटिया भाई के कलाई की पहचान है बेटिया

रक्षा बंधन पर भाइयो से कर रही गुहार बेटिया
बस, अब तो मत मारो

गुरुवार, 23 अप्रैल 2009

Gender Ratio Affects Marriage Norms in UP

Instant weddings in the eastern districts of Uttar pradeshhighlight a disturbing fact - the State's very low sex ratio।It probably was not the most orthodox of liaisons, but he seemed like a nice boy with a steady job and a sizable area of land, and so Sunita (name changed) married him. Smiling self-consciously, she describes how he arrived at her village of Sarai Mohana in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh as part of a guided tour by eligible bachelors and their families. "He approached my father, while his younger brother met my cousin's family. We all went to Bidapur in Agra district, saw their house, and a month later we were married." At the time of Sunita's marriage, Sarai Mohana and the rest of Varanasi district existed on the periphery of marriage tours, but three years on, her village finds itself at the centre of the chatpat shaadi (instant wedding) circuit.Matrimonial alliances in Varanasi and other parts of eastern U.P. have happened at such a hurried pace that Sunita's wedding seems almost sedate in comparison. Anxious grooms from western U.P. usually arrive in teams of 10 or more, with a pre-assembled baraat (wedding procession) of friends and family in tow, meet with an eligible and willing bride through a local matchmaker, hurriedly exchange marriage vows at the local temple, and return home in a matter of days.The migration and movement of women has often produced anxieties among the communities from which migration occurs and the state and media organisations that track such movement. Migration, particularly of women, is often spoken of in the same breath as exploitation and trafficking and often described as an involuntary act forced upon women. While the realities of trafficking, forced prostitution and bonded labour cannot be ignored, they do not account for a huge number of women who crisscross the country every year. Census 2001 reveals that women account for 71 per cent, or 216.7 million of the 307 million cases, of total migration reported by place of birth. When further disaggregated, the data suggest that 65 per cent of women migrate because of marriage. While the veracity of the findings on the motivation to migrate has been questioned by academics, who argue that female labour migration is rendered invisible for a range of reasons, statistics do suggest that marriage is a significant factor behind migration. Then what makes the weddings of Sunita, her cousins and the 30 other women so different?The chatpat shaadis can be seen as the point of intersection of two separate and disturbing phenomena: the pull factor that sends men from western U.P. in search of brides to the eastern districts and the push factor that makes the women accept these men.While a ratio of 950 females per 1,000 males is considered normal in India, most countries tend to have more women than men. The national average in India, as per Census 2001, is 933. A State-wise break-up of the data ranks U.P., with a sex ratio of 898 way below in the rankings, only slightly better than Punjab, Haryana and Sikkim. The sex ratio of the population in the western districts of the State is below 900, while it is above 1,000 in some of the eastern districts."There are no women in western Uttar Pradesh," said Motilal Rajbhar. Motilal's daughter Gita is one of the most recent brides to have married a boy from Moradabad, a district in western U.P. with a sex ratio of 885."So any boy from Moradabad who does not belong to the upper caste, who does not have a steady job, who is above 25 years of age, or who is looking to get married for a second time, cannot hope to find a local girl willing to marry him," he says.Moving from west to east along the map of U.P. shows a sex-ratio pattern that mirrors the path that the chatpat shaadi circuit traces. Saharanpur, the western-most district, has a sex ratio of 868; Muzaffarnagar has 872; Agra, one of the districts that a number of women marry into, has a distressing ratio of 852; and Mathura's figure is equally disturbing at 841. Azamgarh, one of the eastern-most districts, has a healthy ratio of 1,026, followed by Jaunpur at 1,021. Varanasi, while still much lower than the benchmark 950, has a sex ratio of 908.Thus, one of the primary push factors in these inter-district marriages is the frightening unavailability of women in the western districts, which points to an undeclared genocide directed at girl children, denying them the right to life."Freedom for Rs.200!" exclaim the large painted doors of Mukti Clinic in Varanasi. Ostensibly a maternal health centre, it is only one of the several prenatal gender determination clinics that have sprung up all over the State. Heavily protected by local mafias, clinics such as these offer parents the option of aborting female foetuses right up to the fifth month of pregnancy and could be one of the biggest factors in the State's abysmal sex ratio. A large body of academic and statistical work has illustrated that economic prosperity is actually one of the largest contributing factors towards worsening sex ratios. Prosperity gives parents access to ultrasound machines that allow for gender determination and surgical procedures to enable female foeticide.However, as Mukti Clinic illustrates, a complete package of gender determination and subsequent abortion can cost as little as Rs.200 in the first month and Rs.950 in the fifth month - a period when abortions are rarely performed. A district-wise examination of per capita incomes in the State only substantiates this prosperity-sex ratio thesis.While Varanasi's status as a major town would suggest moderately higher per capita incomes, the crisis in one of Varanasi's oldest industries has spelt disaster for one of its most vulnerable communities - the Boonkar or weaver community, to which Sunita, Gita and Motilal Rajbhar belong.For long the makers of one of Varanasi's most famous export item - the Benaras silk brocaded sari - the Boonkars are one of the most impoverished groups in the State today. A decade of economic reforms and policy changes has reduced the once-thriving community of almost 500,000 weavers to penury. "There are many reasons for the crisis, which include shifts in demand and changing customer preference," says Shruti Raghuvanshi, from the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, a Varanasi-based advocacy group. "But government policy is perhaps the most significant factor."A book published by the organisation explains that a decade of liberalised textile policy saw the government reduce the number of items reserved for exclusive production by handlooms to 11 from the 22 recommended under the Textile Policy of 1985. Also an increase in the prices of raw silk was accompanied by an increase in cheap Chinese remade silk imports. India also abolished quantitative restrictions on silk imports in 2001 on the basis of its agreements with the World Trade Organisation.This resulted in thousands of handlooms across Varanasi district falling silent. "Each house in this village had at least two handlooms," says Bhagoti Devi, a resident of Bhagva Nalla, a weaver's colony outside Varanasi. "Now there are just four in the entire village." In the absence of weaving as a vocation, the only work now available in the village is that of construction labour. It is possible that the crisis has been the major push factor for the women of the weaver community.Chatpat weddings are usually arranged with the help of a local facilitator or dalal. The dalal, who is often a woman, is usually one who is either from Varanasi and has married someone from western U.P., or vice-versa, and so has family in the villages of both the bride and the groom. Channoo Rajbhar is the dalal in Sarai Mohana and has got 30 young women from his village married off to young men from Moradabad over the past three years.The dalal is charged with verifying the antecedents of both sides and arranging the modalities and logistics of the wedding. "Since the weddings are usually conducted within days of the couple meeting, a lot of planning is required," explains Rajbhar. "Pandits have to be arranged, a village feast has to organised, gifts have to arranged." However, the ultimate responsibility rests with the parents. "We usually arrange a meeting of the parents, after that we are no longer accountable."The biggest draw of a chatpat wedding is the limited economic burden placed on the parents. While each case is different, dowry is very rarely taken in such alliances. In fact, the financial insecurity of the weaver community implies that the groom's side often pays the lion's share of the wedding expenses. The dalal extracts a percentage of the costs as commission - and these are entirely borne by the groom's family.There is obviously a fair amount of money to be made on commissions; one family told Frontline that the money for their daughter's wedding was loaned to them by the dalal.However, there is a growing number of instances in which young girls have married apparently wealthy landowners from Agra, only to find themselves in a one-room hutment in a faraway village, isolated from their family and support systems.Gunja, a 16-year-old from Sarai Mohana, and her parents took all possible precautions before marrying her off to a youngster from Nandapur village in Agra district. Her parents met the groom's parents, and even visited their house in Agra. However, it was only after she was married and went to live with her husband that she realised that the couple posing as his parents were in fact his relatives, and the concrete house her parents had been shown was not his house. Gunja spent the next six months practically captive in a one-room mud hut before her parents arrived and rescued her. She now lives with her parents and refuses to return to her matrimonial home.Uttar Pradesh's chatpat weddings are the latest addition to the larger national marriage market that functions along a complex and intricate network of brides, grooms and agents. States such as Punjab and Haryana have taken to sourcing brides from States as far away as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Tripura, apart from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

अगले जनम मोहे ......

पचमढ़ी में ७० फीट की ऊंचाई से फेंकी गई बच्ची गुड़िया ने एक बार फिर मुझे नारी के अस्तिव पर सोचने के लिए मजबूर कर दिया है।" नारी यत्रत पूजते, रमते तत्र देवता " की संस्कृति पर विश्वास करने वाले इस देश में पल-पल नारी अस्मिता से होता खिलवाड़, निहित स्वार्थो के लिए सामाजिक संस्कार और रीति रिवाजों के नाम पर क्षण भर में उसके स्वप्नों को तोड़ता ये सामाजिक परिवेश, क्या इसकी ही परिणीति नहीं है, गुड़िया का उसकी अपनी मां द्वारा ही परित्याग करने की यह घटना, इससे भी दुखद पहलू है कि एक शिक्षित नारी जब ऐसा कदम उठाने में गुरेज नहीं करती तो, गांव-देहातों की अशिक्षित महिलाएं यदि बेटी होने पर हो हल्ला मचाए तो इसमें कोई आश्चर्य नहीं है। इस शिक्षिका मां का ये कृत्य तो सामने आ गया, लेकिन क्या हम जैसी कितनी ही शिक्षित महिलाएं कभी-कभार सोच में ही सही ऐसे कृत्यों को अंजाम नहीं दे चुकी होती है। कुछ अपवादों को छोड़ दिया जाए तो क्या नारी अपने ही एक अंश के रूप में नारी को जन्म देना किसी दुस्वप्न से कम नहीं मानती, ऐसा नहीं है कि केवल बेटी की शादी और दहेज के पक्ष को देखते हुए महिलाएं ऐसा सोचने पर मजबूर होती है, इसकी प्रमुख वजह है समाज द्वारा नारी को दिया गया परिवेश। हम ऐसे सामाजिक परिवेश में बेटियों के सदियों तक उपेक्षित होने की बात सोच सकते है, जिस परिवेश में पुरूष वर्ग अपमानित करने के लिए ही नारी अस्मत को ही हथियार बनाता है, समाज के ठेकेदार कहलाने वाले लोग बात-बात पर मां- बहन को गालियां और अपशब्द कहकर अपने अहम को तुष्ट करते है, क्यों बात-बात पर लोग बाप-भाई की गाली क्यों नहीं देते। इसके अलावा संचार क्रांति और विकास के इस युग में नारी को अपमानित करने के एमएमएस जैसे हथियार भी नारी की अस्मिता को बेधने के लिए ईजाद कर डाले है। क्या प्रकृति से मिला शारीरिक संरचना का यह उपहार हमें अभिशप्त होने के लिए मजबूर नहीं करता, इसमे हमारा क्या दोष है कि ईश्वर ने हमारी रचना ही जन्मदात्री के रूप में की है। अपने ही घर की चारदीवारी में छोटी-छोटी बच्चियों से होता ब्लात्कार, गली मोहल्ले, कार्यालयों, बसों, ट्रेनों में होते अश्लील इशारे, क्या कोई भी नारी अपने ही नारी अंश को दुनिया में लाकर इस हकीकत से रूबरू कराना चाहेगी ? यह सवाल दुनिया के सृजन के साथ शुरू हुआ है और दुनिया के खत्म होने तक भी इस सवाल का किसी के पास कोई उत्तर नहीं होगा। इस गीत की ये लाइन दोहराते हुए मुझे ना तो शर्म महसूस हो रही है और न ही कोई गिला..." अगले जन्म मुझे बेटी ना कीजो"

बुधवार, 22 अप्रैल 2009

गुड मोर्निंग