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Women Empowerment Not Confined To Educated Urban: Read The Success Story To Say Yes

Written by : Info Box Team

Dependent on the forest for their day-to-day needs, women of Bandha Tola faced an uncertain future when their whole village, along with hundreds of other such Baiga tribal villages, was moved out of their traditional habitat in the jungles of this famous tiger reserve in central India's Madhya Pradesh state. But today they feel empowered and foresee a bright future for their forest-dependent tribe and cherish the fact that, despite being relocated, their culture and traditions are alive and flourishing.

First Time In The History

Their confidence stems from a small but powerful initiative to market the rare tribal jewellery, handmade by Baiga women, outside this tribal belt for the first time in history, A brainchild of the Kanha Tiger Reserve's administration and the Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF), this initiative is not only improving the lives of one of the poorest tribes of India and giving them confidence to compete with others, but it has also brought tribal jewellery into homes of people who have started appreciating the dying art.

Earning Livelihood And Respect Too!

Sunita Dhurve, a 25-year-old mother of one, says she had no idea that people from big cities would like their work. "It's as if they liked our culture."

"We (Baiga) make our own jewellery. It hardly takes a few hours to make these necklaces. If we work as labourers, it gets us Rs 100 for an entire day's work, time and energy; besides there is no honour as those contractors and other people from big cities look down upon us. But to make necklaces is something we can do at home while doing other household chores," Dhurve told.

Make-Up For Self And Toy For Son

"It's great to have our own source of income. Now I am not dependent on my husband for money. I have my own savings and I don't have to make him happy for every small thing that I need," quips Sanju Bopthe, another tribal woman.

She adds that the first things she bought from her savings was some make-up for herself and a toy for her son from the weekly market at a nearby town.

How This Come To Happen?

They make necklaces and bracelets from the material provided by the Last Wilderness Foundation, which also collects the artefacts from her to sell them at souvenir shops and e-marketplaces. Started in October 2017 with just one Baiga woman, the project has gained momentum over the last year and currently around 50 women from three different villages - all situated less than 10 km from the forest's core area, make colourful bracelets and necklaces, earning their own livelihood.

While the foundation provides them all the material that they require, they earn some Rs 50-100 per piece. The jewellery is, however, sold for Rs 600 to Rs 1,000 at different souvenir shops and resorts in Mukki zone of the Kanha Tiger Reserve, as well as on e-commerce platforms.

Customised For Urban Users

All the tribal jewellery is customised for urban users. "It's a brilliant experience and it is for the first time that their jewellery is being marketed and the souvenir shops have something local to offer. We had received a really good response, but the best response came from online stores and foreign visitors," said Vidya Venkatesh of Last Wilderness Foundation. The response is outstanding as people love it and the demand has increased, say the forest officials.

Currently, there are only two types of jewellery being made by the Baiga women for marketing: Necklaces and bracelets. Venkatesh said since the project has received a great response, they are now looking for expansion by adding two more products.

Want More For Our Craftsmanship: Voice Of The Youth

For 16-year-old Indravati, who learnt jewellery-making from her mother Pramodini, Rs 50 or Rs 100 is not enough. "It may be enough for people living in a forest village, but I know that people in cities pay a lot more for similar craftsmanship. I have saved Rs 6,000 in the last three months. But it would have been more if I could market it myself," says Indravati.

Who Used To Runaway Are Now Holding Workshops

It's a great leap of change for these ladies who earlier used to run away on seeing a forest guard. These tribal women held workshops for the tourists this season. Their confidence level is high and they are slowly learning the worth of their work and art.

However, for the foundation and the forest department, the initiative is aimed at preserving the Baiga culture and to reduce their dependence on the forests by empowering them and giving them the confidence to start their own entrepreneurial ventures. He added that the initiative has also built a sense of trust among the people of Baiga community and the forest department.

Even as women feel empowered just by doing what they had always loved to do, a new sense of awakening is evident as they now think of future in terms of more wages for their craftsmanship and entrepreneurship.

(Image courtesy: Youtube)