Sinder Kaur is a little more fortunate than the rest of the women who come to learn phulkari (flower craft) embroidery at the Khera Gajju village, near Patiala, where RI District 3090, in association with Madhav Stelco, has set up a vocational training centre for women who desperately need a source of income. “My husband supports me and takes care of the children while I am here learning phulkari embroidery. I realised how privileged I am unlike many women from my class who go through domestic violence and abuse,” says Sinder.
Rajni, a domestic help, who has enrolled in the vocational training programme and earns “much less money than required to run my family” feels lucky too. Her husband is an alcoholic and she has two children to provide for and educate. After learning phulkari, she hopes to find a decent paying job in Patiala and move out of Khera Gajju. But for now, “Achha lagta hai (I feel good),” she says “to come to class and talk to all the ladies and to know that I am not alone. Running these colourful threads through the fabric creating beautiful patterns makes my stress go away,” she says.
The vocational centre was inaugurated by Meenu Goyal, director of Madhav Stelco, and DG Parveen Jindal in Feb 2022. The ₹1,50,000 CSR grant covers material, trainers’ fee and the cost of tailoring machines. Currently working with 30 women, the centre aims “not only to find these women placement as assistant designers but also to promote phulkari, the traditional Punjabi handicraft. Machine embroidered fabrics and garments, which are commercially produced are pushing phulkari out of business. Through the vocational programme we are not just creating awareness but equipping these women with employable skills,” say AG Rajiv Goyal, the project chair.
No previous embroidery knowledge is required for this three-month training programme, although the craft is slow with methodical hand exercise. “These women are quickly learning the embroidery and advancing at a steady pace,” says Rekha Maan, the trainer and mentor of the programme. She is a member of RC Patiala Royal and has won a national award for her phulkari designs. They want to finish the course soon “and gain financial freedom from their abusive husbands and improve their standard of living.” As part of the programme the women are also taught how to stitch and design dresses and salwar suits. “This will help them in creating an entire outfit all by themselves which means they can earn more money,” she points out.
Currently working with 30 women, the centre aims not only to find these women placement as assistant designers but also to promote phulkari, the traditional Punjabi handicraft.
Rekha is working closely with these women to help them complete their first fabric assemblage and build self-confidence. “We are going to host an exhibition for them and hope their outfits get auctioned at good prices,” she says.
The district, in another separate CSR grant with Madhav Stelco, is training 26 girls in cosmetology. Books, stationery, make-up kits and other accessories are provided to the participants free of cost and they are given hands on training by professionals on skin and hair care. The total cost of the project so far has been ₹50,000, and it is supported by RC Faridkot.