SARAS, a game changer
By: Zia Darakhshan
The fact that women’s empowerment is essential in every way of their lives, whether it be in terms of a healthy family, a thriving community, a successful health care system or a viable socioeconomic system, is beyond doubt.
Even though women possess the inherent power to transform societies and communities to drive greater levels of productivity, the question of how to help them realize this potential has always remained a topic of speculation.
There are a plethora of success stories on record, which all point to the fact that women can do wonders on the economic front once they are given an opportunity to realize their full potential. A wide range of studies and research have shown rural women to be the most talented among the population, but there is a lack of facilities to explore the degree to which they can contribute to the economy as a whole.
As a matter of fact, the support of various organizations to work for the upliftment of rural women who possess the talent and skills necessary to scale-up their household incomes is a continuous story that cannot be ignored and cannot be overlooked. This situation has been largely overcome by the self help group (SHG) model which has been a great success in organizing the rural women folk, both skilled as well as unskilled, in order to raise their economic fortunes for a better life.
The government’s intervention in realizing the potential of rural women across different sectors of the economy, specifically in local economic landscapes, via ‘SARAS-Aajeevika Mela’ held across the country is proving to be quite a game changer when it comes to the financial empowerment of rural women.
This exhibition-cum-sale under the brand name of ‘SARAS’ (Sale of Articles of Rural Artisans Society) has brought to its audiences a wide range of products handcrafted by the rural artisans, craftsmen and beneficiaries of Self Help Groups (SHGs) from all over the country. The products range from handlooms, artifacts, handicrafts, and heritage products, tribal ornaments, metallic products, decorative items, earthen utensils, organic food items, paintings, spices, brass, processed food products, utility items, soft toys and wrought iron products etc.
An outstanding initiative, SARAS Mela, developed by the Ministry of Rural Development under the Deendayal AntyodayaYojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM), is aimed to bring together rural women SHGs members to display their skills and goods, sell, and build linkages with potential market players through one platform. These Melas (Fairs) aim to eradicate middlemen between the craftsperson and the local buyers and ensure to increase the margins for the artisans. Other major benefits are listed below:
Facilitating and motivating the beneficiaries of Self Help Groups (SHGs) supported by DAYNRLM schemes of the Ministry of Rural Development to exhibit and sell their products and provide them with an opportunity for additional income, exposure, and interaction on a large scale.
Not only provides a platform to these SHG women, but it also provides a national level exposure to understand the demand and taste of the urban customers in metros.
Providing a productive platform offering rural producers a valuable opportunity to sell their goods on large marketplaces, to communicate with customers; to study their likes, preferences and choices and understand them.
Helps customers to update and adapt their items, increase marketing abilities and deliver outstanding services while enjoying greater marketing chances.
It’s incredible! But it’s true. Women constitute a substantial number in the army of over 5 lakh artisans in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir. These women artisans are well trained in the arts and crafts and have been contributing in a significant way to the glory of the handicrafts sector in the region. Their skillful craftsmanship has made a big contribution in making the Kashmiri handicrafts as prized possession over the years and has captured the hearts of people across the globe.
But the irony is that their skill has remained suppressed owing to lack of financial resources and their direct access to the market where they could have got handsome returns for the artwork. The lack of resources has marred their growth and failed them to organize their trade in a professional way. Being unorganized and left to the mercy of middlemen in the trade, they are forced to live in abject poverty.
Precisely, women folk form the main skilled force which drive J&K’s handicrafts sector. If tourism is the backbone of the region’s economy, it’s the cultural industry (handicrafts sector) which is its spinal cord.
The past of the artisan, especially women artisans has been pitiable. For centuries, they have always remained financially starved and the influential have always been exploiting their plight to hijack their craft for peanuts. There is a yearning gap between the people who used to produce it and those who used to sell it.
Impact on J&K women
It was heartening to witness dozens of Self Help Groups (SHGs) constituted by rural women across the country displaying their hand-made products in the first ever SARAS Aajeevika Fair held in March 2023 on the banks of famous Dal Lake. The 11-day women-led fair organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Rural Livelihood Mission (JKRLM) featured a broad range of products manufactured by more than 300 rural craftswomen.
Pertinently, a similar fair was held in Jammu in February, which was highly successful and drew an overwhelming response from artisans across the country.
The event attracted more than 300 women artisans from 17 states/UTs, who displayed their handicrafts, handloom products as well as delicacies. The music performances and delicately made products of the SHG members were a hit with the visitors.
SARAS Melas are going to serve the purpose of J&K’s rural female folk, both skilled and unskilled, to scale up their incomes in the given opportunities and come out of poverty. These Melas will actually be artisan festivals where the female artisan through their SHGs have an opportunity to display their products and skill.
While the craftsmen can display their work, they can simultaneously practice their arts and allow visitors to see how the goods are produced as well as the final products. Precisely, these festivals have a huge potential to attract tourists who have been showing tremendous appetite for Kashmiri arts and crafts.
Over a period of time, the standard of living of the rural based female artisans will grow to a size which could support them in the event of need. It will go a long way to preserve, protect and propagate the female artisans and their crafts. The financial benefits through these Melas will percolate directly to poor artisans of the region.
Last but not the least, in olden days, exporters and middlemen used to fleece these artisans by giving them small loans and in exchange taking their crafts at a very marginal price. They used to sell these pieces of art to the outside world at lucrative prices. Thus there was a yearning gap between the people who used to produce it and those who used to sell it. Now, the SARAS Melas can change the situation where the small enterprises run by the women will get directly benefited owing to elimination of middlemen and direct access to marketplaces.
To be precise, SARAS is a huge initiative which is seriously going to make the women self-reliant and help the poor households to come out of the shackles of poverty by enabling them to access finances and identify resources, to create, cultivate and expand their businesses in an organized manner. This is basically the grassroot level empowerment of women folk never seen before in the UT of Jammu & Kashmir.
(The author is a freelance writer. The views expressed are author’s own-PIB)