Okhai: Empowerment of a truly colorful kind

The region of Gujarat has been home to many a tribal cultures and has nourished them from the earliest known periods of history. The stark monotony of the arid landscape in this region is relieved by the bright shades of handicrafts made by the tribal women. Specifically, the Okhamandal Taluka is home to more than 200 Self Help Groups (SHGs) of men and women. It is from these communities that the Appliqué handicraft under the “Okhai” brand name has been created with the support and guidance of TCSRD (Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development).

The Self Help Groups in Okhamandal Taluka mainly comprise of the Rabaris, Vagher and Ahirs. The most prominent tribe here, the Rabaris, are a semi-nomadic tribe known for their survival and adaptation in arid regions of Gujarat and Rajasthan – pursuing a pre-agrarian, pastoral lifestyle – found mainly in the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat. The Rabaris today lead a quaint, colourful and rugged life which finds a manifestation in the embroidery and crafts made by them.

The TCSRD centre employs the skills of about 200 Rabari women from the various Okhamanda villages and a team of trained tailors. The various products made in Okhai include apparels, accessories and handicrafts. The handicrafts workforce is guided by a full time designer to translate the traditional products into those that are in consonance with the current fashion trends. These products are sold at retail showrooms in Mithapur and Ahemdabad. The products are an amalgamation of the traditional art form of the Tribal Women and the designs of the designer.

As their website puts its, “The Okhai brand has become a powerful statement by the women of Okhamandal villages over the years. A statement that empowers them, a statement that gives them and the region an identity, a statement that make people notice this beautiful form of art and patronize it.”

What we’ve found particularly interesting is the impact that these self-help groups are creating on the community members. Do read the following tales of empowerment at the Okhai website:
Laxmi Bhara – Chief designer. She has been associated with the project for over 8 years and now is a proud owner of a home.
Rami Dula Nangesh – Empowerment personified. Her day with Okhai starts at 5 in the morning and she has been instrumental in bringing about innovative changes to the various products.

More about Okhai here: http://www.okhai.org/
To read about Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) click here: http://www.tcsrd.org/

This article has been contributed by Chandrika Maheshwari. Chandrika is a student in her 3rd year of engineering in BITS, Pilani and holds a vision to do something for the country and contribute in its development. Her interests include social entrepreneurship, traveling, reading and writing.
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