Spearheading the Modesty Movement: Bhuvaneshwari Malot's Efforts to Dress Tribal Women with Dignity

Bhuvaneshwari's passion and dedication have inspired many Bohra community women to donate their customary 'Rida' dresses for a noble cause – to make clothes for young tribal girls in Banswara villages.
Frocks made with Ridas
Frocks made with Ridas

Rajasthan: Charity can be a series of small actions contributing to a greater cause and leading to a significant change. Bhuvneshwari Malot, a housewife who experienced periods of profound despair and a sense of purposelessness, found meaning in her life by extending a helping hand to support others who had nothing for themselves, not even an extra pair of clothing to change.

Bhuvaneshwari Malot, a Banswara-based social worker, has become a catalyst for transformative change in the lives of many impoverished tribal women. Starting with humble beginnings in 2000, she has now created a vast network of supporters. She has distributed more than 30,000 maternal and baby aid kits to destitute women in the tribal hamlets of Southern Rajasthan.

"I once visited the Janana wing of Banswara civil hospital to meet a family friend. There I saw a tribal woman who had just delivered a child.To my surprise, the woman lay there, drenched in her blood-soaked skirt, without another shred of clothing. Barely any garments covered the baby. That sight melted something deep within me. I hurried back to gather some articles of clothing. I created some infant clothing from scratch, and when I gave them to the nursing mother, her eyes filled with tears of gratitude," revealed Bhuvaneshwari to The Mooknayak.

Bhuvaneshwari Malot
Bhuvaneshwari Malot

Stirred by the heart-wrenching incident at the hospital, Bhuvaneshwari ideated the concept of creating maternal kits for newborns and mothers. These vital kits comprised Jhabla, (loose frock), nappies, and caps. To create these essentials, Bhuvaneshwari hired a woman and compensated her with Rs. 30 per kit. She distributed these kits to women in hospitals free of charge who were in dire need of clothes for themselves and their newborn babies. For the needy women- petticoats, blouses with sarees have been given.

This project was instrumental in changing the lives of several underprivileged women and their newborns.

Hospital staff and volunteers have been reaching out to Bhuvaneshwari Malot for her invaluable assistance whenever they encounter women in similar circumstances requiring aid. Malot's team promptly supplies its baby kit project to alleviate the situation. Donors generously contribute their gently used clothing items, which Malot's team adeptly tailors to fit young children, thus providing them with comfortable attire.

Frocks from Rida- the modesty garment of Bohra women

The Dawoodi Bohra community's attire is distinct and unique. Men wear a three-piece white tunic consisting of a saya kurta, overcoat and pant, accompanied by a white and gold topi (cap). In contrast, women wear a two-piece dress called rida in various colours and materials. The rida comprises two pieces: a long skirt that extends from the waist to the ankle, and a top that covers the woman’s head and chest, leaving only her face visible. The rida functions as an Islamic modesty garment, much like hijab. Bohra women are obligated to wear it once they take an oath to adulthood, referred to as misaq. Thus, the clothing is not just attire but an essential element of the religious and social identity of the Bohra community, distinguishing them from other Islamic sects.

Bhuvaneshwari's passion and dedication have inspired many Bohra community women to donate their customary 'Rida' dresses for a noble cause – to make clothes for young tribal girls in Banswara villages. The Rida possesses immense religious significance for the Bohra community, and thus, no women would ordinarily give it to anyone else. However, many women have willingly donated their garments to help hundreds of young girls dress modestly and live with dignity. "Three frocks can be made from one rida, which is colourful and vibrant. We have distributed dresses to 4,000 girls in the villages," says Malot. Bhuvaneshwari's efforts have created a ripple effect, promoting the culture of giving and supporting the less fortunate in the community.

A Bartan (Utensils) Bank

The maternal kits program was just one aspect of Bhuvaneshwari Malot's social welfare activities. Observing that underprivileged families lacked basic utensils to prepare food, Malot devised the idea of creating a "Bartan Bank," where people could donate cooking utensils they no longer required. "During a routine kitchen cleanup, I discovered that I had three sacks full of unused utensils lying around. I reached out to my friends to inquire if they had a similar surplus in their possession and could donate the kitchenware. The initiative was a huge success. Our network of thirty-one companions and I go out from time to time to deliver the utensils to needy families," says Malot with a smile. It's one simple act that has resonated with many people and is having a significant impact on the lives of people in need.

The Utensil bank from where poor women can take items for their daily need
The Utensil bank from where poor women can take items for their daily need

Making women self-reliant

According to Malot, women are not lagging behind because of their inability, but their lack of self-reliance. Since they do not earn, they must lead a life of subordination. Malot's mission is to empower women and make them self-sufficient. She encourages tribal women to learn the art of sewing and stitching to earn a livelihood. Through her work with the Mahaveer International's Mahi Veera program, 56 women and girls from tribal areas have benefitted from free training in the stitching craft. There are 25 women and girls in the ongoing session who are still learning. Malot's efforts are producing promising results by enabling women to take control of their lives, become independent and achieve financial freedom.

Malot's efforts are not only limited to humans but also extended to other living creatures. She and her team of women volunteers have helped raise bird stands at busy places such as markets, temples and junctions, where people can arrange water and feed for sparrows and pigeons. Her two decades of social service has earned her the Sakhi and Jajba awards, along with many recognitions and felicitations from various social groups.

Malot believes that when she found a purpose - to help others - despite being depressed and facing many medical problems, it made her feel better and understand the value of human life. She urges everyone to do their part to help those who are less fortunate and not as privileged as themselves. Malot's commitment and dedication to social welfare demonstrate the essential qualities of empathy and compassion that inspire people to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

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