Devi - Brand of Empowerment

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


 

The word ‘stitching’ has many connotations to it. But one such is, in the art of textile, where the journey of thread with its loops, twists & turns, adds beauty not just to the plain piece of cloth, but also to the one who atones it. A decade ago, here in parts India, stitching weaved an emotional fabric between mothers and daughters. Times when there were no phones to communicate, in rural areas, daughters after their marriage, at their in-laws, whenever they felt scared or sad, would open their baggage and hug the clothes stitched by their mothers, that would tether back their warm memories with them. Though the technology has caught up to almost all nooks and corners of India or even the world, still the similar sentiments are held together by the magic of needles and threads. The sentiments are much stronger and empowered in the life of Ruma Devi, an ordinary woman from a rural background with an extraordinary dream stitched deep into the modern reality.  

 

Ruma Devi born in 1988, in the district of Barmer Rajasthan, is the eldest of 8 daughters and a younger brother. Ruma Devi lost her mother at an early age of 6 and soon after her father’s second marriage, she was raised by her uncle and aunt. As for education, she only went till 8th grade and had to drop off from Schooling. At an early age of 17, she was married off to a person from the same district. But he was neither educated nor skilful enough, which left the household in a poor economic condition. Ruma Devi decided to pick up the slack, by marching outside the house and deciding to work for herself and the family. But the region and the people had a strict policy against both, lifting the veil and women working. So, Ruma Devi did abide by one of the policies, in order to work. So, keeping the veil on, she stepped out and initially formed a self-help group of 10 women. As a young girl, she had learnt embroidery from her grandmother. Very keen on her talent, Ruma Devi along with 9 other women pitched in 100rs. each and together they bought a second-hand sewing machine and started making bags. But soon she realised that it didn’t fetch them much, as they sold bags for 50rs. and 40rs. went into the raw materials. Seeking for the next move, they were advised to reach out to the ‘Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan’ (Rural Development Awareness Organisation) in Barmer, which dealt with manufacturing of handicrafts. Taking the suggestion, a couple of women went to the organisation, requesting for jobs. The organisation showed them a few samples and asked them to make the same and bring it back. On return with the task complete, the organisation adulated them and offered them the job. The women group received their first order and the organisation gave them a 3 days period to complete it. But to the surprise of the organisation, they finished it in one day and took it back to the organisation the very next day. When asked, how were they able to pull off 3 days work in a single day, Ruma Devi responds by telling that no one slept in the excitement that they had a job, and hence finished the work overnight. 

Soon Ruma Devi understood that she needed to do big and build on what her grandmother had taught her. Then with more women joining the force, they started making Bed Cover, Cushion Cover, Curtains. Ruma Devi trained the newcomers for 15 days. But she found out that the products weren’t bought at frequent intervals, as those mentioned products that were made, no one would buy over and over again. This paved them to stitching of clothes, where they stitched cotton Kurta and Dupattas. Recognising the demand, they slowly moved onto change of fabric, by using silk with broadening their horizon on themes and colours. Ruma Devi wanted to showcase this to people outside of her district and Rajasthan. There happened to be a fashion show that was being held in Rajasthan. But this was all new and a bit daunting for Ruma Devi, with being told that big designers would be part of the Fashion show. Though granted permission to participate in the Fashion show, walk on ramp and costume design, remained as two mountains to be climbed. With not much idea of costume design, Ruma Devi sought for external help and got discouragement words that hers was more of a ground work, and she should step aside from participating. Despite that, Ruma Devi did costume designing on her own with the strength of her team and even completed her first of the many more to come ramp walks. With acquiring recognition, Ruma Devi got invites for many exhibitions, where she sold the products directly to the customers. Particularly in 2017, Ruma Devi, on an invitation, traveled to Germany to attend HEIM textile Fair, which selects one group to represent their nation. So, Ruma Devi, representing India, won the heart of many people at the fair, who were skeptical that the products were handmade, to which Ruma Devi, sat down with a needle and thread, and showed the masterwork, for thousands gathered at the Fair. From the land of 50 degree temperature, Germany at the time was snowing and it was - 13 degree. She had taken all the raw materials for preparing food, in fear of not finding any there. She fed the prepared food to a few Foreigners, who found it so tasty, that they felt they were eating fresh bread for the first time. Ruma Devi met a few Pakistani women who had settled there, who got very emotional seeing Ruma Devi’s attire. When asked, they said that it was such an odd miracle that they got to meet their compatriot all the way here in Germany. Puzzled by it, Ruma Devi enquired on what they said, and it turned out that their grandmothers and other relatives were from Rajasthan who had the axe of partition plunged on them.  

Ruma Devi is a person with a wide and contagious smile. But behind the smile, she had to dig her sorrows and shame, brought by society and fate. After one and half years of her marriage, in the year 2007, she had a baby boy. But the child’s condition wasn’t right and it needed immediate medical attention. Doctors at Barmer told, there was nothing that they could do and the child had to be taken to a bigger hospital.  At Barmer, in those days, having drinking water was a luxury. Bigger Hospitals needed bigger cash and even the resources to get there. Due to these factors, the Child could survive for only 48 hours. Though the cause was the poor economic state they were in and if anything it was the role of fate, Ruma Devi’s words resounded, “I couldn’t save my child”, a mother’s call, a mother’s cry. In that pain she understood the pain of thousands others, who are just scampering through life with bare minimum, waiting for life to roll over their lives. That pain moulded into an iron core inside her, within it her firm decision to work, earn, mitigate the basic problems of her life and of other women. Her in-laws didn’t encourage it, in fact restricted it. The environment in the district then, was so conserved and secluded that women let alone restricted from going to work, were also not supposed to eat ghee, jaggery or any sweet dish prepared. Those were designated only for husbands. The wife had to stick to Dal and Rotis. Along with this, though having a girl child was not particularly encouraged, but not having a boy child, met its embarrassment and the mother was put to blame. These ideologies, had an ugly and unfortunate incident as an example, when a mother, after giving birth 5 times, and all the five times, them being girls, the mother had to go through the community’s comments and criticism. Even the household people blamed her for bringing shame to the family. Eventually the world shrunk for the mother, filled with those bullying words and blame, as she consumed her life, and also of her five children, by drowning in a tank. Ruma Devi was the beacon of hope, as she did, what she felt was right and was actually right. She moved out of her house briefly and took shelter at a place which was not even plastered, just bricks stacked upon each other. She started her work there, along with the initially formed self-help group of 10 women. 

Ruma Devi didn’t go to any Business School or take up Management classes, nor is she a CEO of any MNC, but currently she has given jobs to nearly 22,000 women from 75 different villages with the age group varying from 17 to 70. Women who didn’t step out of Barmer district, now go to big cities like Mumbai and Delhi to sell their products. Few have even stepped on Foreign soil to exhibit their work. Most of those women not only take care of their expenses, but also run the house and even send their children to school. Few of these women have even supported their husband’s education by taking care of the monetary situation. Many of these women now also have a life outside the four walls. Many of these women have confidence instilled in them, with which they can stand tall and strong. Ruma Devi, has been a brand for empowerment and rightfully so, she obtained ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’, the highest Civilian honour for women in India, in 2018. In 2010 she went on to become the president of ‘Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan’, NGO which she had joined as a member in 2008. She featured as the face of the cover page for ‘India Today Magazine’, in 2018’s anniversary edition. With many such international recognitions from Germany, US, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Singapore, she was listed under 51 most impactful innovators under the Global listing awarded by World CSR Congress last year. Ruma Devi has a 8 year old son now, who is taken care of by her family. He gets annoyed at times that his mother doesn’t share much time with him, but she believes that there is a lesson involved which has to be learnt the hard way, that hard work is must to survive. Ruma Devi, though didn’t have a sound formal education, believes that her situations forced her to think and work the way she did. She has an offer to visit Paris and learn from the World’s most fashion acquainted city. But she has no time to visit Paris, as she is busy learning design and art from her own land, India.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

References: WEF.org, KBC S11 E25, Wiki.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: October 20, 2020

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