For the women of Umreli village in the Korba district of Chhattisgarh, weaving has been a way of life. Traditionally, most of the people in the village have been weavers for generations. The skill of these artisans have always been highly appreciated and popular in and outside the state. Their products are sold at a very high price in the market. However, it had not been a lucrative trade for these weavers because they don’t get the lion’s share in the profit generated on their products. For their products to reach the market, they have to sell their ware to the big traders or middlemen. These big traders and middlemen would buy the products at a very low price and sell them in the market at a much higher rate and reap all the benefits.
This scenario is now being reversed owing to the active intervention of the government. With the dual objective of women’s empowerment and eliminating the middlemen between the weavers and the market, a significant initiative is being taken. Training and marketing assistance is given to women of the village who operate as a unit in the form of a Self Help Group or SHG. 23 such Self Help Groups have been formed throughout the village and these groups are getting advanced training on dyeing and designing apart from weaving.
It is an initiative under the Bihan scheme under National Rural Livelihood Mission. Bihan is a flagship scheme of the Chhattisgarh government under which women are given training and marketing assistance related to various trades. Community participation is also a prime focus in this initiative.
“Earlier we would do all the hard work but the big traders would reap all the benefits by designing and giving finishing touches to our products. Now we are doing everything and since there is no middleman or big trader involved now, we are getting all the benefits.” Says Uma Yadav, one of the weavers.
Though the women are being given advanced training on weaving, it is ensured that the emphasis is still on handloom. Most of these women today are dreaming of a better future for themselves and their children. For most of them it is the financial independence and the promise of better education and future for their children that functions as the driving motivation.
Another significant aspect of this initiative is that the Self Help Groups of these women are involved in every step right from setting up the facilities and working on the products to marketing them.
The word Bihan means dawn and indeed these schemes under Bihan are bringing a new dawn to the lives of women in Chhattisgarh. The initiative to uplift the women weavers of the state bears testimony to this.