An NGO in West Bengal has taken up the cudgels to rescue Zardozi artisans from poverty and institutional apathy they have been suffering and also making efforts to preserve the rich tradition.
Suchetna, a non-profit set up in 1995, has recently provided the Zari workers’ community over 10,000 saris, several hundred kilos of rice, sewing machines, tarpaulins to cover their hut roofs. Besides it is also imparting skill training to the community. This move has given much relief to numerous members of a financially weak community of an estimated 5 lakh men and women in Howrah district alone.
Surviving through the COVID-19 lockdown, Amphan cyclone and other adversities has been a big challenge for the community. SK Younus, Secretary, Sara Bharat Zari Shilpi Kalyan Samiti, Bengal, told Awaz-the voice, “Suchetna has helped us a lot. The organisation has understood our situation and helped us with food, clothing, shelter and switching to other viable vocations. Otherwise, we would have lost the battle of survival.”
Likewise, Innah Mollick, a zari work from Panchla in Howrah echoed these sentiments. “We have gone through very tough times. The workers from Suchetna would visit us and help us with our needs. Zari workers are living in abject poverty, unable to manage even two square meals. Most importantly, the NGO is helping us with professional rehabilitation since Zari work is a loss-making job now.”
Suchetna, which got registered as an NGO under Societies Act in 2003 is run by Anushree Mukherjee. Speaking to Awaz-the Voice, she said: “We are doing various projects on women empowerment and child development, literacy including digital education programme for children and senior citizens. We have been adopting villages in remote locations and trying to empower the people there
Suchetna Founder Anushree Mukherjee
“Pabupurwa village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Muthhapudhupet near Avadi in Tamilnadu were adopted and nurtured as model villages with health care, sanitation and literacy programs with self-help groups to achieve the much-needed empowerment at the grass root level. This was the motto and from its inception Suchetna worked together with the locals to accomplish the same.”
From 2015, Anushree, in her home district Howrah and some other districts of West Bengal, is working on several projects to help the needy especially in rural areas.
“With our main focus on health, hygiene, sanitation, education, environment etc. and with the help of Sanjiban Superspeciality Hospital, in Fuleshwar, Uluberia, Howrah, our NGO has been providing free health check-up camps with medical help to poor people in remote villages of West Bengal where there is shortage of doctors. We have also started a free digital literacy course in Howrah at the Anath Bandhu Samity -- a-100 years plus old society -- for unemployed youth and others under the National Institute of Electronics and Information Technology.”
Regarding Suchetna’s work with Zari workers in Howrah, she said there are about 5 lakh Zari Workers in Howrah and approximately 15 Lakhs in the state of WB. During the Covid lockdown and due to the dwindling demand of Zari work /craft in India and abroad, many artisans became unemployed. In August 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, Suchetna started a rehabilitation programme for the talented zari workers.
“We support them with food grains, clothing, and tarpaulin (during Amphan calamity) to the best of our capacity. Subsequently, we have created multiple self-help groups & also provided them with requisite resources to self-sustain themselves, such as sewing machines, fabrics, including trainers to teach the basic sewing process so that they could switch to garments manufacturing and other necessary marketing techniques including micro-financing to make garments which as per plan would be sold in Wal-Mart from currently being sold on the local market (called Manglahaat). We have arranged free training for them which lasted for about 6 months. Now we are micro financing these SHGs to make them self-reliant & self-sufficient,” Anushree added.
Suchetna’s sole objective is to make these poor artisans atmanirbhar (self-dependent) so that in the near future, they can sell their products in Walmart also, she said. Anushree is not only providing resources to the zari workers but also making efforts to provide them with platforms, where they could display their talent.