The women weavers of Manpura village

A 44-year-old establishment is empowering women and enhancing their livelihoods by engaging them in the creation of hand-knotted rugs that are finding an audience worldwide

The women weavers of Manpura village
Sumitra, another weaver from Manpura, says when she started, everyone told her that she could never learn at her age. Today, Sumitra is one of the fastest weavers of the community. Her children are currently in school, and she affords their education comfortably.

In the quaint little village of Manpura in Rajasthan, the woman of the house is independent, skilled and enterprising. She completes her daily household chores early in the morning and leaves for work. After a productive day weaving several pieces of art, she heads back home—having contributed significantly, sometimes even more, towards the household earnings.

We are talking about the all-women weaver community of Manpura that is engaged with Jaipur Rugs—one of India’s largest manufacturers of hand-knotted rugs. The finished products are sold internationally, ranging from Rs 40,000 to Rs 85 lakh.

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Shanti Devi, the head of the weaver community of the village, is a busy woman. “The situation was dire at home back in 2007 and I wanted to find work to support my family,” she recalls. It was then that she met the people from Jaipur Rugs who were setting up weaver communities in small villages. Since then, there has been no looking back. “I earn up to Rs 11,000 per month, besides commissions for supervising work,” she adds.

Today, Shanti Devi, also called bunkar sakhi (which translates to ‘weaver’s companion’), has added 150 women weavers from her village to the Jaipur Rugs family. They earn Rs 5,000-6,000 per month—a salary enough for the simplistic village life they lead. In Rajasthan, the weaver community is spread out in the villages of Dhanota, Manpura and Aspura. In all, there are about 40,000 weavers, most of them women, across Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, UP and Bihar.

Sumitra, another weaver from Manpura, says when she started, everyone told her that she could never learn at her age. Today, Sumitra is one of the fastest weavers of the community. Her children are currently in school, and she affords their education comfortably.

The weavers receive the map of the carpet that has to be designed. They then replicate it, thread by thread. With the materials that are left, they are free to design their own carpets, which are added to the ‘Manchaha’ collection. This has resulted in unique pieces of artwork.

Commenting on the carpet empire that has now left a footprint not just in the country but even overseas (US, China, Italy, Russia), Nand Kishore Chaudhary, founder of Jaipur Rugs, says after graduation, he started his career at his father’s shoe shop. However, he did not find any scope for growth in the business. He then landed a cashier’s job in a bank but did not want to go down that road. This led him to think about his future prospects and realised that the carpet industry was starting to pick up. Subsequently, in 1978, he set up his hand-knotted carpet business with a loan of Rs 5,000 from his father, two looms and a bicycle.

“The carpet industry was growing back then. Then there came a slowdown as the machine-made carpets flooded the markets and gave competition to the hand-woven ones. The number of new weavers declined too, as industrialisation and education levels started picking up. More than 80% of weavers left the business and no longer wanted to learn the artwork. Hand-woven carpets were also more expensive than the machine-made ones,” Chaudhary recalls.

However, in the past two years, their business has picked up, he says. They are now adding at least 1,000 weavers every year, he explains.

He has an interesting reason for employing only women weavers. “They are more productive and work sincerely,” he adds with a smile.

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