Crafting rural lives

Last Updated 22 February 2016, 18:39 IST

The atmosphere changed dramatically as I took a deviation from the National Highway 13 and entered the Sabala Home, a few yards away. The sound of wheels rolling on the sunny and noisy highway gave way to the chirping of birds in the trees.

The small road, flanked by trees on both sides, led me to a group of women, who were exploring new designs on cloth and ornaments. Be it Prema, a victim of child marriage who lost her husband at a very young age or Yashoda Bogar, who was denied of land rights for being a woman or Lalitabai, a dowry victim — every woman here had a story to share. The saga of their journey from being nondescript women to becoming leaders of their community unfolded even as they deftly crafted ethnic designs on bright coloured apparels handwoven by women groups in the surrounding villages.

“Handicraft is an offshoot of the women empowerment programmes we initiated three decades ago,” says Mallamma Yalawar, founder of Sabala, a civil society organisation, which has been transforming the lives of women in Vijayapura district and the neighbouring regions. Born and brought up in a village, Mallamma had a clear understanding of the harsh realities of rural life in the region. Women had to face many challenges, and social evils like the devadasi system and child marriage made life miserable for them.

For the womenfolk

Mallamma made up her mind to work for their cause and took up courses in rural development and community empowerment. In 1986, she founded Sabala with an aim to empower women through awareness creation and skill development. The activities included counselling, forming groups and organising rallies. There were programmes that stressed on the importance of education, gender equality and reinforced the status of women in the family and society.

“Consistent efforts caught the attention of public towards the ills of devadasi system, which is nothing but a systematic exploitation women in the name of god,” says Mallamma. The seeds of awareness sprouted and different organisations and even the government got involved in the process through various awareness programmes. Consequently, the government banned devadasi system, which was prevalent in Vijayapura and Bagalkot districts.

In spite of the state-wide campaign and the subsequent ban, Mallamma feels, devadasi system is not completely uprooted and is still practised under wraps.

Later, the Organisation worked under different projects of the government and national and international funding agencies to address the problems of people residing in rural areas. It also played a crucial role in developing alternative livelihood patterns for people who were relocated upon the construction of Almatti Dam in Vijayapura district. Skill development trainings were part of the programme. In 1991, the Organisation started evening schools for school drop outs and also led a campaign to bring children back to the schools. Later, as the campaign expanded, the Organisation started a school in Vijayapura.

Another initiative of Sabala was to free women from the clutches of private money lenders. It established Chaitanya Mahila Co-operative Bank in 1995. The bank which caters exclusively to women has more than 8,000 members and has lent loans to over 5,000 women. The working capital of the bank has crossed Rs 55 crore this year. About 2,000 women have started income-generation activities after availing loan from the bank. Sabala has formed 310 self-help groups, and most of them are linked to the bank.

The latest venture of the Organisation is to design ethnic textiles and jewellery inspired by Lambani (Banjara) culture and promote them at national and international market. While adapting the Lambani concepts like the mirror work and patch work (quilt) into its designs, the Organisation has ensured that Lambani people become part of the production. In fact, the Organisation has trained rural and tribal women, based on their interest and skill, and involved them in the production process.

While the business model leads to the revival of traditional crafts like kasuti and lambani work, it also creates employment opportunities for rural women. The craft-based livelihood initiative has become a full-fledged business enterprise and so far, 16 women groups are pursuing it successfully. What makes the products stand out is the contemporary touch given to traditional designs.

Sabala, which is a member of the World Fair Trade Organisation-Asia, supports these groups in marketing the products at national and international platforms. The groups that have sustained without any outside financial support for over a decade now, make an annual turn over of more than Rs 15 lakh. Sabala also organises Kalasanthe, an annual handicrafts fair, to give better exposure to traditional artists. The strength of the initiative lies in the fact that it has been transforming humble women into able entrepreneurs.
For additional details, log on to

(Published 22 February 2016, 15:28 IST)

Follow us on