Woman sews her way to a better life for many

Woman sews her way to a better life for many

Pabiben Rabari at her house. (DH Photo)

The 50-km long dusty road flanked with babul trees and dotted with cotton and caster crop farms takes one to Bhadroi village in Anjar taluk of Kutch district. The 36-year-old resident of this village is a household name who has not only turned around her fate from the shackles of a conservative Rabari or pastoral community that confines women to household chores but also changed the lives of other women from the community.

Pabiben Rabari’s embroidery work, locally known as ‘Hari Jari’ which she learnt while growing up, has taken her outside this village to cities such as Delhi and Mumbai frequently. A women’s sling bag which she made is now a famous product known as ‘Pabi bag’. Her bag has been featured in Hindi and Hollywood movies. She was part of the promotion of the movie Sui Dhaaga.

“It [embroidery] is the knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation. Every girl has to not only learn it but also make clothes for her as part of her dowry. If a girl couldn’t learn, her marriage was almost impossible.. even if she was lucky to get married she wouldn’t be sent to her husband’s house unless she prepared all the clothes required on her own,” says Pabiben while showing her old collections at her modest two-room pucca house in her village.

It was at the end of the 1990s when her community decided to do away with this harsh tradition. Girls were allowed to use sewing machines for the first time. Meanwhile, Pabi got married at the age of 17 and was taken to the jungles of Chhattisgarh by her husband Lakshman where they reared cows and buffaloes. “My several relatives including brother-in-law still live in the jungle. Men roam around rearing cattle while women take care of the food and tend to children. I couldn’t live that life and returned. My husband joined a grocery store in Anjar market as a salesman...” she recollects.

With the rise of Bhuj after the disastrous 2001 earthquake and white Rann festival came the flux of tourists. The market for traditional attire and handicrafts got a boost. She said she started getting work from traders who would give her materials and designs to stitch. After gaining experience, she started making her own products. With the help of Nilesh Priyadarshi, who helps women entrepreneurs through Kaarigar Clinic, she set up her own brand and a website Pabiben.com.

She won Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar for rural entrepreneur for the year 2016. Last year, she recorded a turnover of over Rs 25 lakh. The number may not look big, but in the past five years, she has employed 160 families of her community.

“My husband rears cattle for big people of the community and gets Rs 50,000 a year. And for this amount, he would live in the jungles leaving me and children behind. After Pabiben brought me in, I started earning over Rs 10,000 a month which is much more than what my husband earns. I feel empowered now as I don’t have to be dependent on his meagre income,” said Soni Rabari, a 28-year-old woman who works with Pabiben. Pabi and Nilesh are now trying to help other women like her.