Sometimes when a story has many dimensions, each equally powerful, it’s difficult to decide which one is more compelling to share…At GOONJ, Sujni is such a story of many layers and impacts. It’s truly a story where a humble piece of cloth is the heroine…
You may have seen a sujni in a village household.. It’s made by stitching together layers of small and big pieces of cloth, with a big cloth piece on top.. The kind of cloth considered waste for any other use. In common parlance a sujni is a crude country cousin of patch work quilts. It is indeed a creation of need; people use it as a mattress in summer and as a quilt in winters. But the humble story of a Sujni wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t tell you what it’s doing for hundreds of women.
When you read about Sauhagya Devi.. You will hopefully understand what we mean.
Sauhagya Devi lives in village Tamot Parsa, in district Madhepura of Bihar. “Babu there is no fun in a debt ridden life,” she had said about her life as a farm laborer. “It weighs on you like a ton of bricks.” Reeling under a debt of Rs. 25,000 and earning a mere Rs 30 a day Sauhagya Devi had all but resigned to her fate as an indebted farm laborer. Her son Phoolchand would migrate to Punjab in search of higher paying farm work but it wasn’t enough to break the vice like grip of mounting debt.
After the Bihar floods in 2008 when Goonj shifted focus from relief to rehabilitation, livelihood for women was a priority. Here men from villages frequently migrate to big cities in search of work, leaving the largely unskilled women to fend for themselves… We saw an opportunity in the large disaster wastage at our hands. Connecting the dots, we turned Sujni making from this waste, into an income generation resource for these women.
Initially Sauhagya Devi was reluctant.. unsure of a new idea, even as she feared losing her daily wage job. Slowly she learnt the basics and even started involving her daughter in law in Sujni making. Her son too, chipped in… finding the work more profitable than migrating to cities. Money started trickling in and the family was able to pay off their debt in a year’s time. Sauhagya Devi says, “While paying the last installment my heart was pounding uncontrollably. I thought it wasn’t real. I am debt free. It was the most joyous time of my life. More than the day my son was born.” Last we heard Sauhagya Devi wanted to buy land and redo her house…
In 2014 after working for a year in Uttarakand post floods, we fulfilled a cherished dream of opening a large scale Sujni making center. Late last year Goonj started a Sujni center in Rishikesh employing 55 women, majority of whom have never stepped outside their homes… On an average more than 100 Sujnis are made in a day.. As part of our winter kits these are reaching out not just to rest of Uttarakhand but also to Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, U.P and Assam.
One of the many reasons Sujni making is our pet project is because of stories like Suhagya Devi’s. That it’s an environmental winner is obvious, given that till date thousands of kgs of absolute waste cloth has been turned into a powerful resource. That, we are fast replacing the Daan ka Kambal (an utter shame in the name of charity) by Sujnis for our winter kits, only highlights our faith in this work. Not only is it cheaper and more durable, it puts the money back into the rural economy.
An interesting aspect is that most of the exquisite craft and art of our country comes from the villages; whether it’s Madhubani, Phulkari or papermache. Yet you will never find these in village households or even markets. Sujni is probably the first such product where the raw material is coming from the cities while the finished product is being made and used in the villages.
How’s that for reverse migration!!!#100storiesofchangebyGoonj