In the 1980s, women in Darjeeling went through a lot of turbulence especially due to the Gorkhaland agitation. Their primary means of earning a living was to work as maids and other petty jobs. But now, all that has changed significantly. The women have now adopted carpet weaving as a primary source of income, thanks to the assistance of Hayden Hall, an NGO based out of Darjeeling town. Tehelka’s Teresa Rehman writes in this article about how a turnaround was achieved in the lives of these women:
Tears roll down her cheeks as she recalls the turbulence during the Gorkhaland agitation of 1980s in Darjeeling in West Bengal. As Shannu Sherpa, 36, gives finishing touches to the new carpet she has woven, she narrates how her uncle and most of the male members fled to the jungles fearing atrocities by the security forces. “There were bandhs for as many as 40 days. The whole economy which had thrived on tourism collapsed and there was no income for many days. Moreover, houses were raided and there were atrocities on women by the security forces,” she says.
It was during these trying moments that she found succour in carpet-making after she landed in Hayden Hall, an NGO in Darjeeling town. Then it was quite an uphill task for her to traverse the distance of nearly an hour from her village Singmari to reach the place. She says, “But it was worth it. I have brought up my children with these earnings after my husband’s death. I am not always able to fulfill their demands but I am happy that at least I can lead a respectable life here.”
Radha Karky, the administrator of Hayden Hall has been interviewed in the article. Some excerpts of her views:
“The idea behind introducing this alternate way of earning livelihood is because employment opportunities are very few here and there is tremendous pressure on these women. Here, they at least pick up a skill. It’s like being literate, gaining confidence. For illiterate women, coming up with beautiful hand-woven carpet is psychologically uplifting. These women would otherwise be going home to clean dishes. Even their meager wages are cut if they fall sick,” adds Karky.
Interestingly, and perhaps more importantly, in addition to the wages that these women are able to earn, they also have the added security of medical care and life insurance!
About the economics involved, the article goes on to say:
Carpet making is not a viable option if done independently but Karky says, “Its viable in Hayden Hall. We ensure that a weaver makes at least Rs 1500 per month. While working at Hayden Hall, women are also enrolled in a health program that covers basic medical expenses, a lunch schemes, and their children benefit from the many children’s schemes, from day-care and health care to after-school tutoring to help with public or private school fees.” These women make carpets, which are then marketed by Hayden Hall in the two stores located in Darjeeling. These stores are also have an overseas shipping licence. Hayden Hall’s carpet weavers spend roughly a month on a three-by-six-foot carpet.
Read the entire article here to get a sense of the freedom that these women have managed to earn for themselves. It is truly heartening to see an organization being able to achieve such a turn around for people, who only a decade ago, were grappling with uncertainty and turmoil.
Image courtesy: www.tehelka.com