Knitting is not an entirely new skill set for women like Sarita Devi from the foothills of Himalayas. Sunny afternoons in winter calls for get-together sessions where women pass the time by knitting sweaters, caps, mufflers, socks and pants for their families. Sun bathing, talking, sipping tea and knitting.
“The skill of hand knitting is passed to us, women, over generations. Knitting a sweater would take at least 15-20 days when the work was less. I realised that’s what I was good at. But then when I saw knitting machines at the centre, it was entirely a new ballgame for me,” says Sarita Devi.
“SPEED” is one single word that best describes knitting machines for Sarita. Her eyes could see an immense potential in the machines that knitted more sweaters in lesser time. She constantly calculates confusing math in her head. “If one garment sells for Rupees 345, then 12 women producing one in every hour for five times a day.” She communicates in numbers as to how much profit she will make if she sets up her own garment business.
Adorning an appealing smile and eyes full of dreams Sarita Devi continues: “I want to start my own shop where I will employ women knitters, give them regular jobs and I will sell the woollen garments across India. I know I am dreaming big, but why not? I never dreamt of anything benefitting me.”
Sarita comes from a rural area of Deonai (in Uttarakhand) where opportunities for women are very marginal. Things even get worse as women are constantly reminded of their limited roles of motherhood and ‘under deserved’ household chores. That is when in May 2018 IM with its partner The Himalaya Trust (THT) initiated a 15-day skill training programme for the freedom of women from the vicious circle of social, political, economic and gender-based discrimination. The training has entirely changed Sarita’s life.
All for the good reasons, Sarita does address the immense change in her interpersonal skills. “I was never allowed by my husband to work or earn. I did not have the courage to speak to anyone outside my home. But here I am sitting in front of you, telling my story,” she laughs out loud. Burden to become the sole earner of the family soon fell on Sarita after her husband renounced the family to become a monk.
“Completing the training opened opportunities for me. Now I work here as a trainer. I teach a group of 12 girls and get paid Rs 2000-3000 every month. Additionally, I knit garments and sell in the local market. A sweater sells for Rs 250-300. This is nice money for a village. I use the money to support my three kids and their education,” she says.
Sarita Devi’s journey from a trainee to a trainer, from being dependent to achieving economic independence is an inspiration for many rural women in economic empowerment and equality.