Migration is one of the biggest issues now faced by most of the under-developed states, especially the mountain regions. Lack of basic facilities and opportunities for education and employment force the people in such regions to migrate to other areas. Depletion of the water table of the hill region has now become a bigger reason for such migration, as many in these regions are dependent upon farming as a livelihood. Uttarakhand, among the Himalayan states of the country, has recorded the highest increase in the share of urban population. Thousands of people migrate from the villages in search of better lives, better opportunity etc. resulting in a population explosion in the urban areas of these states, and consequent pressure on the Government to manage its resources to cope up with such surge in its urban population.
However, here still a tinge of hope is visible for these people to hold on and stay in their own places avoiding migration. The hope is almost literally hanging on the threads of wool; Yes on the woolen knit wears being produced by women of these areas. Himalayan Naari, the self-help group is helping to generate income for the local women through selling the hand-knit products made by them. These women are struggling and doing everything they can to eke out a meaningful life and also get their children educated without leaving their region, their home.
There are almost 50 women involved in this great endeavour and some of them are from the area known as Chaukori, Uttrakhand. There are others who have rented a room to carry on their work which would eventually ensure that a good education is provided to their children. ‘Himalayan Education Foundation’ (HEF) guides these women in business decisions and advice them on designs for marketing in the urban and Western markets. The foundation also provides them necessary raw material, wool and also helps in accessing the Western markets. There are volunteers who help the women to carry the goods to and fro.
These ladies come from different background, age and caste; they are working together to make their dreams come true and I was amazed to see them work with such a zeal and determination, though the income is really limited, as it takes almost a month for them to make handmade shawls or sweaters and they earn upto 1300 INR ($20) per piece. It helps them to pay their bills or school fee for the children. During my trip to Uttrakahnd I spent a couple of weeks in Chaukori and talked to these women to understand their ambitions, stories, and their struggle!!’
Babita Mehra, is the force behind the HEF. She is the coordinator of Himalayan Naari. Her husband was employed in Army and due to his medical condition he couldn’t continue and left the army some years back. Babita then took charge of her family and got her son educated. Babita now manages all the operations and coordination of Himalayan Naari. Her ability to speak English and work on computer has made it easier to receive orders, distribute jobs and communicate with HEF. HEF hopes to train more women in other fields such as photography, computer education etc., inspired by the skills learned/developed by Babita.
Bhavna Dhanik, 21 is the youngest in the group; she studies as well as engages in weaving in her spare time. She saves the money she earns from weaving for her wedding. Marriages are a very costly affair especially for the bride’s family.
Some of the women who hails from the interior areas, live here in rented accommodation, to ensure that they can afford to send their children to school. I met Dhana, a mother of two. Her elder daughter Kareena was extremely shy and left the room as soon as she saw me. Later, I found out she was born differently abled. She always hid her hand in a shawl or behind the back, as revealed by her mother. Kareena was going through a crisis of confidence and avoided exposing herself to others. Her mother worried about her disability and all the more because she was a girl. I told Kareena how beautiful she was and I wished soon she learnt to overcome her misgivings about her look and develop confidence in herself and her ability to work like others and face the world boldly.
Meena Nagarkoti, was one of the vibrant women in the group. She was a mother of two boys and her husband worked in Delhi to earn for the family. To get some extra income, Meena undertook weaving and the income helped to pay her rent. Her husband remains in Delhi and very rarely comes home at times for more than a year also, as he can’t really afford to take leave from work and also the fare to travel often to home. The kids and wife miss out on a family life, almost living on their own.
Laxmi, opened a small shop which sold small articles and trinkets required by women and toys and such articles. She received scholar-ship for the education of one of her kids and for the other one used her earnings.
I also visited GeetaBhoriyal, who had delivered a baby boy just a couple of days before. She was the mother of two girls aged 12 and 10; however a son is always welcome and a desire for a male child by one and all seems a very common phenomenon in the region. Some of the women in the process ended up having 5 or more children searching for the elusive male child.
Deepa Koranga, a tall and strongly built woman worked in the field to earn money along with Naari work. She lived in a rented accommodation and also gave shelter and education to children of her sister-in-law who stayed back in the village to take care of the family and home.
Asha Mehra, a widow of an Army man and mother of two. I snapped Preeti, the elder daughter trying one of the shawls made by her mother.
All these women have unique stories and there are more. Gradually, women are recognizing their power and rights. Education and employment is the only way to strengthen them and help them overcome the hardships faced by them from the male gender-biased society. However I realized that we have still a long way to go. To my mind the Himalayan Naariis appeared not only a group coming together for a living but also a platform to voice their concerns, to make them self-independent and keep them close to their roots avoiding the trouble of Migration faced by most people of this region. I can only wish the best for these struggling, but determined souls of these Himalayan regions.