Once upon a time, there were 25 artisans working with a Mumbai nonprofit called CORP. In 1999, CORP encouraged the group to become independent, and the women formed their own cooperative. They called it Arpan (“Offering”). They have been working with MarketPlace since then (with the exception of one year of reorganization).
Arpan was fortunate to have had some help getting started. CORP gave them 10,000 Rupees, 2 sewing machines, one table, and scissors. Since then, however, they have made their own way, growing in size and confidence. They now have 9 machines and rent their current workshop in Thane, on the outskirts of Mumbai, for 3000 Rupees a month. They are very proud of how far they have come.
Before Arpan, many of these women could not read or write or venture outside of their homes. Now they not only travel by train to the Mumbai office in Santacruz, they also visit fabric suppliers in various locations and go into the city to buy raw materials. They even bring in all the goods themselves, ordinarily a job for men. When they started, no one understood accounts, but they soon learned bookkeeping to ensure the success of their business. They have learned to negotiate banks, police stations and government organizations on their own, as well.
The income they earn is primarily used by the women for their children’s education; the rest is deposited in the bank for later use. One artisan, Sangita, was able to use her long-term savings to build a new house to replace one with flimsy thatched walls and roof. Another artisan had a son who wanted to study in a program of higher education. Her husband opposed the expense, but the artisan went ahead and paid the tuition from her savings. The Arpan artisans feel that since they contribute to the family income, they should have an equal say in decision-making. In the past, all properties and utilities were in the husbands’ names alone. Now the women make sure that their names are included, as well.
The Arpan artisans credit the SHARE-MarketPlace education and social programs with helping them become so independent and strong. Through these programs, they learned about women’s rights and found their own voices. Participating in the social action programs showed them how they can change their communities, even attacking intractable problems such as corruption in the rationing system and domestic violence. The Arpan artisans want to be known as strong women who will go to any lengths to achieve their goals. Their 18-year record supports this claim!
1 Head of Production Group
8 sewing artisans
8 embroidery artisans
3 of the sewing artisans do cutting. Each is given a different product to cut.