interview with Sarju Bhanwar Gopal Panwar, handicraft designer at Barefoot College, Rajasthan, India.
streaming movie — 04:30
My name is Sarju, I’m 50 years old and I work at Barefoot College since 1981. I lead the handicraft department. I never got a proper training as a designer. I learned everything myself, and now I teach other women. I get my inspiration for the designs out of our daily life. I’ve never seen any books, I work with my imagination.
I’m born and brought up in Tilonia. When I got married I moved to a village 25 km from here. My native language is Marwari, but I speak also our national language Hindi and some English words as well. I belong to the Darji-caste, as well as my husband. I studied till the 5th grade, afterwards I went working.
I’m married for many years now. I was 13 when my parents arranged my marriage. Now (some) girls can choose themselves whom to marry. My parents didn’t have to give a dowry. My in-laws accepted me as their daughter and both families spent an equal amount on the wedding.
My husbands’ name is Bhanwar Gopal. He worked for many years at Barefoot College as a filmmaker. I joined him at the center.
I have 5 daughters. The oldest one was born when I was 22, there is 3 years difference inbetween each of them. They all studied and completed their MA’s. Some of them did further studies in computer science. My daughter Bata is now working at the center as filmmaker, she wants to fulfill her father’s dream that way. Other daughters continue their studies in Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur.
My husbands dream was to see his daughters happy. Most of his time he has spent outside of India. He travelled a lot to England, Germany. He wanted his daughters to come up for themselves and be as free as he was. In villages it’s often not acceptable that girls leave the house, but in our house it was very different. My husband was very supportive and he really wanted his daughters to become great persons. I’m very proud of my husbands’ point of view and I pursue his approach.
I don’t want to force anything on my daughters. They will select their jobs themselves. My daughter Bata does not go for the big money in the city, she loves to work in Tilonia.
My other daughters are still studying. If they want to come back to Tilonia, the’re welcome. If they prefer to settle down in the city, they are free to do so.
As me, a lot of women are very happy that they are part of the Barefoot Project. They gained a lot of selfconfidence, and are mentally a lot stronger now than before. They don’t depend on other family members to make their life. They have their own bankaccount and can spend their money as they like. They save for the future of their children.
To convince the women to take part in the project, we went from village to village. We had meetings to explain the women what it is all about. Most of them are Rajput women, they are not supposed to leave their house, unless their husband or father allows them to do so. We told them what change it can bring to their life to be independent. And they not only like to work, but they are grateful that they are paid for their work as well.
They meet people from other villages, they get out of their closed environment.
Village women that don’t work in the center work in the fields or in government programs, for road construction and others. Once they come to work here, they like it a lot better and they don’t want to go back to their former jobs.
We don’t select along qualifications. We engage also illiterate women and learn them how to write their name, because they have to be able to do banktransactions from their account. We focus especially on the very poor people, and try to convince them to secure their financial situation.
The Mahila Samiti meetings have given a lot of support to the women empowerment. A change of mindset is taking place. Women feel more confident and free due to the support of other women. As one big family we help the weakest amongst us to speak out freely.
Working with sewing machines could improve the production, but it’s not necessarily creating more jobs. We like to sit together and do the work manually. From weaving to handblock printing to stitching and cutting the designs. Everybody has some part of the job to do. If we start working with machines, a lot of the women would be left without work and also without money. We don’t want the machines to replace our skills, we are known for handwork. Handicrafts literally means ‘without machines’.
We follow Gandhi’s filosophy in the way that he promoted the khadi industries. Home made clothing was a very important part of his theory. The Barefoot staff attaches a lot of importance to Gandhi’s principles. We all follow his thinking, we like that attitude.
We consider Barefoot as one big family. But we are aware of the changes taking place in the world around us.
The Barefoot model especially focuses on the rural areas. We would like to have such institutions also on district or state-level. But i think it’s not immediately applicable on communities in the cities. People over there have a lot of jobs and allready have a better security. But in small rural villages people can only live a better life now due to models as the Barefoot one. So it’s really important that villagers spread the word about the benefits of it.