Mumbai: Ambedkar Nagar's women find hope in sui dhaaga
Free tailoring workshop in SoBo slum promises a better life for local women
Inside a dingy lane at Cuffe Parade's Ambedkar Nagar slum, a minor revolution is underway. A climb up a rickety ladder, leads to a poorly-ventilated 100sqft mezzanine room, burning from October heat, where around 10 women are seated on the floor, right next to a table fan, cutting pieces of cloth. After spending several hours cleaning fish at Colaba's Sassoon Docks, these women have finally managed to steal some time for themselves. For the last six months, they've been coming here, thrice a week for three hours each day. To learn stitching. The assurance is a new life that a skilled labour of this kind, can promise.
The initiative called Hamari Silai is the brainchild of three young men in their 20s—Maruti Chauhan, Mohan Rathod and Dhanraj Chauhan, all residents of Ambedkar Nagar. A year ago, the trio that works as football coaches at the non-profit, Oscar Foundation, decided to start a tailoring business for sportswear. While they hired a professional tailor to get their business going, they soon realised that they could also extend the model to help members of their community. "Most of the women at Ambedkar Nagar, either work as maids, or at the docks, where they de-shell prawns and clean fish," says Mohan Rathod, 21. "For every kilo of fish they clean, they make just about Rs 20. We've seen so many women toil away, without the guarantee of a better life. Their husbands, many of whom are alcoholics, are of no help either. The conditions they live in are deplorable. We wanted to give them an opportunity to learn a new skill that could make them more independent," Maruti adds.
About six months ago, the men started free tailoring workshops with the help of tailor Karan Chaurasiya, in the room where they first began their business, and which they had rented out for Rs 5,000. What started with a handful of women, now has 60 participants from the neighbourhood that has a population of nearly 20,000 people. "Not everyone is able to make it [to the workshop] regularly, because of their commitments, but we still manage to have 10 to 12 women attend each session."
The courses last for three months, after which Rathod and his team help them get orders. "We give them 70 per cent of the money, and invest the remaining 30 per cent back into Hamari Silai," says Maruti, who also coaches at Colaba Municipal Upper Primary English School.
The first batch of women recently learned how to make sports jerseys from scratch; they also helped the trio meet a demand of over 1,000 shirts during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival for mandals across the city. The women are also encouraged to start their own business. "The idea is to make them self-independent," says Rathod.
Sunita Chauhan, 25, a house help and mother of an eight-year-old, who works at several homes in Cuffe Parade, says she's been going through the motions for the last 10 years. "All this while, I didn't have the time for anything. Now, I'm convinced that after I learn stitching, I'll be in better control of my life."
No. of women attending the workshop
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