Case Studies

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Girja: Weaver at WW since 2008

“I like work, I like hard work. I work hard to educate my children. I want to become a good wife, mother, and good daughter-in-law, because I am illiterate.”

Girja was born in 1975 sometime in December. She is from Barwaha, a village east of Maheshwar, and south of Indore. Girja speaks Hindi, and some Nimari, and a few words in English. She can write her name, and read a few words in Hindi. She can count and do some arithmetic. She went to school until first or second grade. She worked in the fields until getting married when she was sixteen and moved to Indore to live with her husband Kamal.

Eventually they came to Maheshwar. They have three children now. Varsha is 22, Deepa is 18, and Vicky is 15. She worked in the fields until 2008 when she started weaving at WW. She is one of the first few weavers to join WW, and it has given her confidence.

Girja keeps standard WW artisan hours, from ten in the morning to five- thirty in the late afternoon. Lunch is from one to two, with a tea break around four o’clock. Like most everyone at WW she works everyday but Tuesday, unless there are holidays or other celebrations like marriages.

Her husband drives a school bus, but earns only half as much. Her daughter Varsha works part-time at WomenWeave. Girja says that she and her husband decide together how their monthly income should be spent. They built their two- room, outdoor kitchen home on government land some years ago.

Girja estimates she spends about a third or more of their income on food. Everyone in her family is vegetarian. She says she doesn’t even like to say the word meat. She and Varsha usually go together to the Tuesday market to buy most of the week vegetables, fruit, and staples like wheat, rice, oil, spices and sugar. She generally avoids the daily vendors because the prices are higher. Her family used to grow aubergine, gourds, and other subzi (vegetables) but stopped because their boundary wall couldn’t keep the goats out. She wants to grow vegetables again, once they can afford a goat-proof wall.

It takes her seven or eight minutes to walk to work, when the river is dry and she can take a shortcut. During the rainy season, she uses the bridge, which doubles her walk time. Girja says she likes weaving, and tries to learn more designs, more types of fabrics.

“The more complex the design, the more I like it.”

She says the hardest part of weaving is changing to a new design after working weeks on another design. It takes a while to remember the counting, order and type of weft yarns. She has helped do design sampling with Prahaladji, WW’s weaving expert, and Geeta Patel, a textile designer often works with WW. She has a loom at home that is now dormant, so she could, with her skills easily work again for a master weaver, but she says she likes working “here”. In answer to the question, “What do you think about while you are working?”, Girja smiles with eyes open wide and says, “I think I have to improve my speed so that I can earn more money”.

Rajubai: Weaver at WW since 2008

“I was always in the house. If I required something from the market, my husband or mother-in-law would get it for me. My husband expired about fourteen or fifteen years after we were married. Before that I never went out of the house.”

Raju, or Rajubai was born in the late 1950s in Maheshwar. She started working in the fields when she was nine or ten. Raju got married when she was around thirteen, and a couple of years later went to live with her husband Dadagur. Rajubai has three daughters, including Ranaji, a bobbin winder at WW, who, with her thirteen-year-old daughter and ten-year-old son, lives next door. Like many of the weavers at WW, Rajubai is not from a weaving family. She learned to weave in 1984 at the government-run weaving-training center, situated along the highway to Dhamnod and beyond. Rajubai says she learned to weave because she didn’t like working in the fields. She confirms that most of her colleagues also previously worked as agricultural day laborers.

She came to WW in 2008, one of the first weavers to join the Gudi Mudi Project. She liked being there, Rajubai explains, but it was difficult to weave, and the work was not regular. The khadi yarns that the spinners spun kept breaking and tangling so the weavers had to stop to repair yarns a lot. Later, ladies who knew how to size them [paint them with water mixed with four different kinds of starch] came to help the, This Meade the yarns stronger and they could weave without trouble.

Rajubai compares her old weaving job with her current weaving job. "First of all, I was working at home and getting money as per my work. When I was making a sari, I got 200 rupees. When I needed money, I could take a loan of 1000, 1500, or 2000 or 4000, whatever I required. There was no security in the work, only at the moment. It was only for the money.”

She continues..

“Here I am in a group. We can spend for ourselves. We’re able to talk to other people here [at WW, including the staff, clients, and visitors]. Whatever money I was getting from the master, he gave as an advance or loan and I was in working to pay the loan. Here whatever work I’m doing, I’m getting money for the work. It’s a better feeling. I like weaving at WW compared to my house. I have companions to talk to and I can concentrate. When clients are coming, we are able to explain what we are weaving. With the master weavers, we only did the weaving. We were not understanding the design, just doing the weaving. After coming here, I am able to see the design."

She and her daughter’s family recently paid for the pipes and fees for a water connection they share. She says she likes that she doesn’t have to wait for the tanker anymore. Now she can get water whenever she wants.

Rajubai did not go to school and does not read or write, but she is often one of the first people to speak during group discussions about wages, or how to deal with the cash crisis in India in late 2016, for example. She is also one of the seven members of the board of artisans at Gudi Mudi that has been put in place for a potential legal transition from a charitable trust to a producer company. She says

“It is important to say what you think, and not be afraid of anything.”

Sameena: Spinner then Weaver, since 2005

“It is not enough to have only one person working. There was not enough money. My husband is a hawker [selling biscuits and small utilitarian items from his bicycle]. His earnings were not sufficient, so I took training on the charka.” Sameena started at WW around 2005 About fifteen or twenty ladies were learning with her how to spin the semi- automatic, hand-powered, charkas. The training took three months. She went to Bhopal on a trip to see how the cotton is ginned and cleaned, all the steps before it reaches her hands. Sameena liked the training.

“It was easier than agriculture. It was cooler working inside.” Sameena says, “I might have died by now, or soon, if I were still working in the fields.” Sameena then trained at WW to weave. She says

“I left my job here and worked for a master weaver for a few days, but I came back. It is a better environment here, and earnings. At the master weaver, there are lots of pressures, because it was all men working there, and the weavers perform all the other loom activities there, like warping, threading. That is a headache there.”

Sameena reflects that she got married when she was seventeen. She and her husband moved to Maheshwar in 2000. They have three children. Her son is twenty-two. He finished twelfth standard. He is a construction labourer now. Her older daughter is twenty-two. She is in eleventh standard. Her younger daughter failed school in the ninth standard. She has been doing housework at home, like stitching clothes for the family.

“The children got their school fees paid, most of the school fees, since I started. One daughter is still in school. If I didn’t work here, we would have had to take loans and advances for their education. It would be a problem, yes, but we would manage it. Now I save with eleven other ladies. We give one thousand rupees each per month. Every month someone gets all the money. I used seven thousands of one of my lump sums to get a water tap, two years ago.”

She is eager for her daughters to get married, and will use her ladies’ savings plan toward the wedding costs. She adds thoughts about her own life.

“Since I have been working here I am very satisfied. When I came to work, I was in a mud house. Now I am in a pucca house. The earnings go up, but I spend more and more. My daughters buy too many clothes!”