Weaving Freedom in Rural India

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Traveling to Rural India is like walking into a living  National Geographic article. Men walk past wearing straw hats and carrying large bales of hay on their head. Women wear bright saris and keep their heads covered to passers-by. You are greeted everywhere by cows and goats. (and sometimes monkeys!)

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The main two crops grown in rural West Bengal are rice and jute.

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Rice paddies.

 

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Jute crops

This week, I was visiting with Freeset Fabrics in Murshidabad. These factories, which train women in traditional weaving, were created to help impoverished women in this area, which is one of the greatest sources of sex trafficking in the State of West Bengal. Most of the families here survive off of subsistence farming, which only provides for a few months of the year. Weaving means that these women can provide for their families year-round without having to worry about selling their bodies.

“If I did not work here at Freeset Fabrics, my family and I would all die from poverty.” – Aruna

20170708_105546Within 2 years of weaving scarves, Aruna is now one of the best weavers at Freeset Fabrics in rural West Bengal. She’s able to buy nutritious food for her two daughters, pay for her mother’s operation, and install a water tap in her home. Now, she plans to build a new home; she has dreams! Despite being in a culture that struggles with seeing women as equal to men, Aruna realized for herself that she is equal to a man. She understands her value as an individual and as a woman now. (1)

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We cleaned up the whole factory!

In India, “Every stage of existence – birth, betrothal, marriage, death – is marked with gifts of cloth. . . As a result, women’s wardrobes are like fabric archives of their lives, recalling significant relationships and events. Gifts of cloth forge new relationships and sustain older ones.” (2) Thus, it makes sense that Freeset would choose the path of textiles to offer freedom to women in rural West Bengal.

Sources:

(1) “Freeset Fabrics: Our journey so far.” Freeset – News. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2017. <http://freesetglobal.com/news/98/80/Freeset-Fabrics-Our-journey-so-far&gt;.

(2) Tarlo, Emma. “Life’s Great Pageant.” V & A MagazineWinter 2015: n. pag. Print.

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Introduction to Kolkata, India

When you first walk out of the airport into Kolkata at 4 in the morning, it will feel like you are walking into a sauna. The sound of car horns ring out constantly like a flock of migrating geese — you will soon learn that, unlike America, these honks are not angry, but lifesaving. Driving on the left side of the road, you notice that what would be a 2 car lane in America is a 4 or 5 vehicle lane here. Auto rickshaws, bikes, buses, motorcycles, and cars all compete for the same spots.

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There are some interesting cultural do’s and don’t’s here:

Do:

  • Carry your chickens on the handles of your bicycle and keep them on a basket in the street until you kill and skin them in front of passers-by.
  • Let cows walk past you in the street undisturbed (or pat them on the head for a blessing).20170625_160933
  • Buy chai tea (চা, “cha”) from the chai-wallas on the street. It’s like 8 cents USD, and you get a cool clay cup (which you throw in the street when finished with).
  • Be covered in dust. Everything else is.

Don’t:

  • Bother buckling up if you’re in the backseat of a car. Either your buckle has been cut off the strap, or there’s nowhere to put it.
  • Wear sunglasses, unless you are a celebrity.
  • Let cute little urchin kids start hugging you. They will gang up on you and try to take your money, and you can’t fight back because you are laughing so hard from their cuteness.
  • Forget your umbrella. It’s monsoon season, so it rains once a day — and you can never predict when this will be.