As they sew, they reap: Bihar women use Sujani embroidery to empower themselves – Gaonconnection

Bhusara (Muzaffarpur), Bihar

It is needlework born out of necessity. Where patches of old saris, dhotis and oversized clothes were brought together to make swaddles for newborns. Old, well-worn, soft and comforting fabrics were perfect for wrapping up the little one. sujani embroidery (known means to facilitate and Jani means birth), as is known, further heightened the work of love.

Sanju Devi sat on a bright orange mat, surrounded by scraps of fabric, her head bowed and focused on her needle and thread. The 45-year-old is the director of the Sujani Mahila Jeevan Foundation, formerly known as Mahila Vikas Sahyog Samithi, in Bhusara village, Muzaffarnagar district of Bihar, about 85 kilometers from the capital of Bihar. State, Patna.

The Foundation nurtures and promotes tradition sujani embroidery, which is prevalent in North Bihar, and this handicraft practiced by rural women got a GI (Geographical Indication) label in 2006. GI is a sign used on products – handicrafts, agricultural products, etc. – which have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities due to this origin.

“There are about 600 women in and around Bhusara who do the sujani embroidery,” said Sanju Devi Gaon Login. In 2014, Sanju Devi received the ‘World Craft Council Award of Excellence’ from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), for craftsmanship.

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Embroidery gave women a sense of purpose and independence. All photos: Belle Kumari

sujani work that was common to households in the village when creating swaddles for newborns, has now extended to the manufacture of other products such as cushion covers, letter holders, embroidered patches to embellish the kurtas, sarees, etc. Embroidered products are typically sold in art and craft melas and exhibits.

Along with Sanju Devi, several other women wave their needle and colorful threads over designs traced on the fabric, and using chain stitch and straight stitch, create works of art. Layers of soft fabric are sewn together using a simple chain stitch and running stitch to make baby quilts, and now other products.

The tradition of sujani

Traditionally, the embroidery that the mother of the baby or the women of the household would do on the sujani was representative of the dreams and hopes they had for the new baby.

“In reality sujani is considered a cousin of Mithila painting,” Ashok Kumar Sinha, Director, Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan, told Patna which promotes handicrafts in the state. Gaon Login. It also looks like the cantha work of West Bengal, he pointed out. Kantha also emerged from making baby quilts from old discarded fabrics.

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Initially, there were three women from Bhusara village, but now there are 600 women from over 20 villages practicing the crafts, under the Sujani Mahila Jeevan Foundation.

“The work would have remained within our four walls if Viji Srinivasan of ADITHI and Nirmala Devi of the Sujani Mahila Jeevan Foundation had not revived it in Bhusara village in the 1980s,” said Sanju Devi. Srinivasan (d. 2005) from a non-profit organization called ADITHI with a group of women from Bhusura village in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, in 1988 started the revival of sujani embroidery. The non-profit organization works with rural women to empower them and provide them with a source of income.

Nirmala Devi, one of the first sujini embroidery artists who revived sujini embroidery in Bhusara (1988). She is still working.

One of the first to join ADITHI from Bhusara village was 68-year-old Nirmala Devi. “In 1988, we were only three women trained by Viji Srinivasan. But little by little some money started coming in, no more than twenty rupees a day,” recalls Nirmala Devi. But, she says since, sujani embroidery made a place for itself in the sun and it began to be noticed and appreciated even outside their village.

“I worked with Chennai-based activist Viji Srinivasan,” ADITHI’s Asita Maldahiyar said. Gaon connection. ADITHI took the initiative to popularize sujani and take it outside state borders, added Maldahiyar, who is based in Patna.

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Social and financial empowerment

Embroidery gave women a sense of purpose and independence. “We should not depend on anyone. Now we are empowered and can go out of our homes with confidence,” Bhusara’s Lakshmi Devi told Gaon Login.

“I love being part of the Sujani Mahila Jeevan Foundation,” said Saraswati Devi. Gaon Login. “We have developed a sense of community and we also have an income. Doing embroidery with others is much better than working as a day labourer,” said 52-year-old Saraswati Devi.

According to Sanju Devi, their products have been exhibited and sold at several fairs in Muzaffarpur, Patna and Delhi. The women also worked on pieces commissioned by students and designers from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in Delhi.

There are 600 women from more than 20 villages practicing handicrafts, under the aegis of the Sujani Mahila Jeevan Foundation.

In 2014, textile and fashion designer Swati Kalsi held a workshop for Sujani embroiderers in Delhi, Sanju Devi said. Gaon Login. But, there are no structured marketing systems in place, she said.

“Our income is not fixed. There are times when we earn up to five thousand rupees per month, but there are days when we earn nothing. It is my dream that one day our embroidery will be appreciated all over the world,” said Rani, 25.

While the reasons for sujani were traditionally inspired by nature with clouds, birds, fish, fertility symbols and so on being embroidered on the colorful fabric pieces, it has taken on another dimension now, with more contemporary social issues, à la both good and evil becoming the subject of the embroidery.

“With the transformation of society, the motives have changed over time. Today the artwork depicts the ills of society, the issues women face, such as child marriage, domestic violence and the tradition of ghungat (where women are supposed to cover their heads and faces with a veil),” Rani said.

But the pandemic has put a damper on their work, like any other profession. “We are at home doing nothing but hope that after the third wave we will find work,” said Nirmala Devi.

Training so many women in a small, cluttered space in her house is not possible due to the pandemic and Nirmala Devi said there are efforts to see if they can get a bigger space to do the job.

According to Ashok Kumar Sinha, Director Upendra Maharathi Shilp Anusandhan Sansthan, the infrastructure of Muzaffarpur district is still awaiting approval. “He’s probably suspended because of the pandemic,” he said. Gaon Login.