Nidhi showcasing the skills of Sakhi women at an event hosted by Mahatma Gandhi Peace Council in Ottawa.
Nidhi showcasing the skills of Sakhi women at an event hosted by Mahatma Gandhi Peace Council in Ottawa. Pic-Nidhi Seth

Neglected at Homelands, Rajasthan Tribal Seamstresses Shine Bright in Canada!

The frustration stemming from government apathy has grown to such an extent that the women involved in Sakhi are now contemplating boycotting the upcoming state elections. "When many migrants returned home from big cities due to the pandemic lockdown, they didn't have to worry about two-course meals, as their wives, who were part of the Sakhi program, earned enough to support their families", Nidhi says. However, the substantial economic growth generated by Sakhi has gone largely unrecognized by the state, leaving a bitter taste of disappointment.

Udaipur- This is a heart warming tale of triumph over adversity, where tribal women from the remote hamlets of Rajasthan are now shining in the international spotlight, showcasing their incredible skills on the vibrant stage of Canada's cities. From the non-descript villages of a desert state to the bustling streets of Ottawa and Toronto, these women have transcended geographical boundaries, showcasing their exceptional skills and unwavering determination.

The women of Kushalgarh, a small sub-divisional township in South Rajasthan's Banswara district, have carved a path towards self-reliance and economic empowerment through the Sakhi Project. Despite facing government apathy and indifference, these women have not only transformed their own lives but have also earned international recognition for their craftsmanship and tailoring skills.

Nidhi Seth, a dedicated social researcher, and founder- Sakhi initiative of the Pratidhwani Sansthan, recently delivered powerful presentations on the Project in Canada at two different platforms, receiving accolades from the international community. The project's focus on providing skill sets to indigenous communities and enabling them to lead dignified lives has garnered appreciation.

Nidhi shared the story of empowerment and skill development of women associated with the Sakhi Network.
Nidhi shared the story of empowerment and skill development of women associated with the Sakhi Network. Pic- Nidhi Seth

"I had the privilege of representing the remarkable Sakhi network of women at two prestigious events recently. First, I had the honour of participating in an event organized by the Carleton University College of Humanities and the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Council in Ottawa, held in celebration of Gandhi Jayanti earlier this month. It was a truly enlightening experience, and I was humbled to share our story of empowerment and skill development.

Similarly, on September 30, I was delighted to be part of Canada's Indigenous Day celebrations, hosted by the Toronto International Festival of Authors. During this event, we had the opportunity to showcase the incredible skills of our Sakhi seamstresses. The presentation received enthusiastic appreciation from a diverse audience, including writers, academicians, entrepreneurs, and social researchers, all coming together on a global platform. It was an inspiring moment to witness the recognition and support our project has garnered from such esteemed individuals and organizations." Nidhi shared during a conversation with The Mooknayak.

Nidhi expressed optimism following the presentations in Canada, believing that Sakhi has a real chance to attract business orders from the global platform for its diverse range of products. The international exposure and positive reception garnered during these presentations have raised hopes for expanded opportunities.

In addition to this exciting prospect, Nidhi shared that in the coming year, two representatives from Sakhi will have the valuable opportunity to showcase their creations on an international stage. This development not only highlights the recognition of the remarkable work done by Sakhi but also opens doors for further collaboration and growth on a global scale.

About Sakhi

Sakhi, a project founded by Nidhi Seth in 2016, had its roots in her Ph.D. research. She conducted her doctoral studies, focusing on understanding the role and significance of gram sabhas within the panchayat system, particularly in the region of Kushalgarh.

This area, comprising 213 villages with a total of 36,603 homes and an estimated population of 1.8 lakh, faced significant challenges. Nidhi's research shed light on the harsh reality of this tribal region. Due to a lack of local livelihood opportunities, a large number of tribal residents, primarily men, were forced to migrate to nearby urban areas in search of work.

The migration pattern in Kushalgarh was heavily skewed toward males. In Rajasthan as a whole, the migration ratio was 79:21, meaning that a majority of women were left behind to shoulder the responsibilities of managing their households, caring for their children, and handling other duties with limited financial support from their migrating husbands.

Nidhi Seth had prior experience working with government agencies under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). While engaged in this work, she had an epiphany: creating a livelihood generation program could be a solution to the challenges faced by tribal women in the region.

Five thousand women have received training in embroidery, clay art, toy making, mehndi design and education.
Five thousand women have received training in embroidery, clay art, toy making, mehndi design and education. Pic- Pratidhwani Sansthan

In an attempt to launch Sakhi, Nidhi approached the Rajasthan government in 2014, seeking support through their skill development initiatives. However, the government's offer was limited. They were willing to provide only a small amount of financial aid, contingent on the condition that the government's image and photos of their officials be prominently displayed at the Sakhi center and in all promotional materials. Disagreeing with these terms, Nidhi and her team decided to pursue their vision independently.

"The major interventions of Sakhi have been embroidery, clay art, toy making, Mehndi design and education. Five thousand women have benefited and many of them have started their own tailoring shops and earn respectable incomes," adds Nidhi.

"This is a major boost to their family earnings and has raised the status of the women in their family and community. It has also checked migration of the women folk to nearby and distant cities," Sanjay Lodha, a retired professor of Political Science and advisor at Sakhi told The Mooknayak.

Government Apathy, Contemplation on Boycotting election

Despite boasting a substantial workforce, ample sewing resources, and an unwavering spirit to work, the Sakhi initiative has found itself struggling to secure meaningful support from the state. The government's role in aiding the Sakhi project has been disappointingly minimal, with the tribal department having provided orders worth a mere 7 lakh rupees over the years. This meager support has left the talented tailors relying on the unpredictable open market, which is subject to seasonal fluctuations and offers no guarantees of a stable income.

The frustration stemming from government apathy has grown to such an extent that the women involved in Sakhi are now contemplating boycotting the upcoming state elections. "When many migrants returned home from big cities due to the pandemic lockdown, they didn't have to worry about two-course meals, as their wives, who were part of the Sakhi program, earned enough to support their families", Nidhi says. However, the substantial economic growth generated by Sakhi has gone largely unrecognized by the state, leaving a bitter taste of disappointment.

The activist points out the irony of the situation, stating that while the government seeks votes from the people, it seems reluctant to provide meaningful support in return. Nidhi emphasizes that if the government were to provide bulk orders, the women associated with Sakhi could remain employed year-round and achieve prosperity.

Nidhi asserts with frustration, "Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot touts himself as a follower of Mahatma Gandhi's principles, but there is an unmistakable gap between his claims and the actions of the state machinery. Units like Sakhi, which have been relentlessly striving for self-reliance and sustainable livelihoods, find themselves not only struggling for recognition but also for the vital support needed to truly empower them to thrive."

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