Women In Action
Though living in a region around the ancient temple town of Srikalahasti in India that was ever so rich in its art, culture, and traditions of weaving the most exquisite sarees, the local communities ironically had no opportunities to survive despite their heritage. Poverty and debt were rampant.
To achieve a change in these imbalances and inequalities, DWARAKA (an initiative of the Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust) set out to mobilize the rural women, encourage and establish the entrepreneurial initiative, and tap their potential productive skills to make them self- reliant and recognize their self -worth.
Breaking Status Quo
DWARAKA organized and mobilized communities for collective action, by understanding the socio-economic conditions in the villages. Many of the women who reached out to the organization, had bitter experiences with their husbands, and faced violent situations at home from inebriated spouses. Being economically dependent on them, they suffered in silence for the security of their children and themselves.
Destitute or beaten, they came to DWARAKA to learn the art form of hand painted kalamkari and today, with their economic independence, have become the breadwinners in the family. This has helped improve their health status, support their children in higher education, and even improve their shelter conditions. They have doled their families out of the clutches of moneylenders and found solace from suffocating debt traps.
Opening Doors to All
The practice of hand-painted Kalamkari art had not taken root in many Dalit villages as traditionally the women here were more oppressed, cloistered and shunned from mainstream participation. The art form of Kalamkari was confined to within certain communities.
It was also a skill primarily dominated by male artists and very few women did it independently. If there were a few who did, they would be the children of the master artists. DWARAKA opened up the doors in 1998 to encourage women to acquire the skill and excel in it. Although it had been hard to find masters who openly shared their skills and knowledge, efforts were made to have training programs for the women to learn the traditional paintings.
DWARAKA Mobilizes and Networks Rural Communities
An important aspect of the development processes in the Srikalahasthi belt was the community mobilization and motivation work done by DWARAKA which created pockets of empowered artisans in various villages.
DWARAKA began its foray in V M Palli, a marginalized village with over 300 families where the women were grossly neglected and subjugated.
The network of women spread to a small village - Enaguluru, where a large number of quarry workers were wallowing in penury and hardships, especially with the vagaries of nature, stripping them of their opportunities towards a regular income.
The hands that were blistered having been forced to break harsh stones in the blazing sun were now rediscovering the soothing joy of holding their artistic tools to create Kalamkari art.
For the women of Kobaka village, it was a dream fulfilled when DWARAKA entered to collectively organize the Dalit women to learn the skill of Kalamkari art. As agricultural laborers earning a meager wage when work was available and starving on days when there was no work, these women were able to get out of their poverty life cycles by becoming part of the larger network of women under DWARAKA.
The network spread into the villages around Madanapalli, also in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh. Work began when the women of the Sugali Tribe came asking for alms. DWARAKA recognized the hidden skills and talent in them, something that the women themselves were not aware of, given the daily struggle for bread as flower pickers.
Rather than giving them work that would take them away from their innate talent, efforts were made to get them to connect with their inherent artistic skills, and thus began yet another artisan oriented development program known as SWECHA (Satsang Women Empowerment Collective for Holistic Advancement).
It took root in the remote villages of Mekalavaripalli,Siriguntalapalli, Kuruvankarapalli and NakkalaDinnu. Women who were discriminated against in their families and not even allowed to leave their homes found a new freedom, both social and economical through the SWECHA interventions. The network thus began to grow.
DWARAKA network spread to Pulicherla, and the neighboring villages of Surendernath Reddy Nagar, B C Colony, Kuruvankarapalli, Mulangivaripalli, and others. Women from these villages came together in the Indiramma Centre, (Indian Network of Development Initiatives for Rural Artisans).
It also touched the women of Chittoor town under the RATNA network – Ranjini Amma Training and Networking for Action Centre. Destitute and harassed women of ShankarayyaGunta, Pensioners Colony, Durga Colony, and surrounding regions found a new economic stability as they became part of this network for transformation in the lives of the women artisans.
DWARAKA strategized to mainstream all activities to enable the total participation of the women as decision makers and owners of their growth and development.
Kalamkari Artisans Revival and Upsurge for National Acclaim
KARUNA was initiated by the Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust to federate the various Kalamkari units co-existing in Srikalahasti close to a decade and a half ago. About 350 or so artists and their families were brought onto this single platform to enable the implementation of a Government sponsored program under the aegis of the DRDA, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh.
Rising to the challenging task of uniting an oppressed community of artists, efforts were made to facilitate processes for coordinated execution of a close to Rs.3.5 Crores project for the “Development of Kalamkari Clusters at Srikalahasthi.”
The artists directly accessed and managed these funds. As a result CFC’s were constructed, funds made available for artists to make their economic interventions viable, and training given to many artists also. For the first time ever in that region in so many diverse groups came together, united with their common intent and goals mobilized and motivated by DWARAKA, towards the Government project that has been completed.
An Oasis In The Desert
DWARAKA has led by example. It has shown that villages that are networked, and women who are capacitated with awareness and mind-full action can transform their lives. Equipped with the skills and knowledge of the processes involved in hand-painted Kalamkari art, DWARAKA artists, primarily women, have surged miles ahead in reviving a dying out art form and becoming the protective custodians of this exquisite art done by using only kalams and natural vegetable dyes.
We were often asked “how is it that village after village women seem to have such fantastic talent in art and painting with the kalam”?
The fact is that DWARAKA uncovered the innate potential and talent in hundreds of women, trusting their abilities and capacitating them with skill sets within that framework.
The women gained in confidence after each exposure program that DWARAKA organized.
They learnt about natural dyes and they mix and make their own now. They were given opportunities to enhance their entrepreneurial skills, including the ability to communicate with social media and the use of computers. They were exposed to design concepts on textile. All of this made the DWARAKA women artisans sure of themselves, especially as the watchdogs of original, authentic hand-painted kalamkari art forms.
Organizing the Livelihood Model
DWARAKA grew into a livelihood society called Dwaraka Plus. After DWARAKA was formed with a mandate of managing the entire spectrum of hand-painted Kalamkari art business with a people centric focus. Women artisans were equipped to handle all aspects of the livelihoods model from the beginning to the end.
They organized themselves into committees and groups that take responsibility for the entire process of hand-painted Kalamkari art.
This included groups of young women who managed materials and procurement, natural vegetable dyes mixing and distribution, design, processes, quality control and monitoring, and delivery for the final stage of a production cycle
An administration and management team supports them in several areas of operations to equip them with the knowledge and confidence to handle day- to day activities.
The old and the experienced artisans mentor the new artisans, execute the sketching, writing and coloring of the art. Undoubtedly, the process of enabling and empowering has facilitated processes that make the women economically independent, socially aware, culturally vibrant and the pillars of their communities.
Rural And Urban Production Centers
The textile art from Srikalahasti, finds it's way into other livelihoods generating model centers. In order to achieve this, women from different urban poor communities and villages were enabled to learn different skill sets and create self owned /self employed production centers.
RATNA Centre (Ranjinamma Training And Networking for Action Centre) in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh and INDIRA Centre (Indian Network of Development Initiative for Rural Artisans) at Pulicherla, Andhra Pradesh have trained over 100 women in tailoring, crafting art products.
Both the Centres, employ about 30 women and who are now self- employed, independent.
At the SWECHA, (Satsang Women Empowerment Collective For Holistic Advancement, Madanapalli, Andhra Pradesh) centers the traditional skill of hand embroidery, once practiced extensively by the Sugali tribal women, was first revived and then taught to other young women residing in villages of Mekalavaripalli, Siriguntalapalli , Nakkaladinnu and Kuruvankarapalli near Madanapalli. For women coming from alienated villages, with absolutely no opportunities for economic survival, these centers helped sustain them through handwork embroidery, which is incorporated into the DWARAKA products, making this initiative also economically viable.
Set up in the DRIK VIVEKA campus in Chikkabalapur, Karnataka ,The SHILPI program at DRIK-VIVEKA Campus in Chikkabalapur, Karnataka, was a learn-and-earn program for youth, which gave them opportunities to get trained in skills in terracotta jewelry and mud sculpting. For those who are pursuing it after their study hours, SHILPI has been generating income and self-employment.
Development Action for Youth and Artisans in Bangalore is yet another production center established in the urban area generating employment for youth and women. Besides, being a design and product research center, DAYA is also a training unit where new opportunities are created for the rural artisans to work with designers on different perspectives and ideas. New products are also crafted first at this center, and then sent out to other centers for production for the showrooms.
NACOLDEV (Nakkala Colony Development) is an Initiative for Tribal Women of Nakkala Colony in Tiruchannur, near Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh. It has helped the tribal women living in Nakkal Colony off the bypass road in Trichannur, Andhra Pradesh by organizing them into proper Socio-Economic Empowerment Groups (SEEGs).
From helping them with seed capital invested in purchasing beads and accessories at affordable rates from wholesale markets in distant Mathura in North India, to stimulating the business plan for their growing activities; DWARAKA has helped many of the families get economically stronger.