Tagline: “I must think of all women…”
This is a woman who donated some of her last bits of land for a village anganwadi school; who wants her son to complete MBBS and practice in the village; who encourages local women to learn a new form of vocational training by giving them stipends from her own money; thinks of them as her family; and worries night and day about how to keep the 700 BPL (Below Poverty Line) women in her village gainfully occupied. Rarely does one come across this kind of combination of energy, philanthropy, concern, intelligence, and sheer grit. She separated from her husband and has now been living on her own for 17 years. “My son and all these women are my family.”
Back in the mid 90s, she and other women from the village learnt to weave handloom sarees under a Block Development scheme. But she found that there was no market for handloom; the arena was saturated. The women felt discouraged. So Wazifa decided to do something different. She had heard of women in nearby areas managing to earn upto Rs 700-1,000 a week with zari work. In 1998, she organised zari training for the women on her own. They were skeptical, so she mortgaged some jewellery to give them a stipend of Rs 300 from her own pocket. 20 of them learnt, beginning a process that has flourished into a large workshop, and given employment to several women in Chatra.
Now Wazifa regularly goes to get orders and pick up samples from Barabazaar in Kolkata. The women embroider or add embellishments to sherwanis, kurtas, salwars, saris etc. and now, even to westernized gowns. Many work from their home, and some come to work in Wazifa’s workshop. The products they make may sell for up to Rs 20,000 in the market. In 2005, Wazifa and her co-workers showed their zari saris and salwar kurtas in the State Trade Fair on the invitation of the DRDC (District Rural Development Cell). She made contact with big buyers but did not then have the capacity to cater to them. In 2012, she also participated in the India International Trade Fair in Delhi. Wazifa has registered an NGO, Anusandhan, to organise vocational and other training programmes for the village women. They have worked with the artisanal training scheme for Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises Development for dress making, zari work, and embroidery. She has got ‘artisan cards’ made for 500 of the women who can now participate in exhibitions and get better access to loans.
She is a GPRP (Gram Panchayat Resource Person) for the Bamongachhe Gram Panchayat (Village Council), and has 65 groups of BPL women under her, adding up to about 700 women. And Wazifa, who did not have an opportunity to study beyond Class 10 in her childhood, has just finished a course in the accounts software, Tally.
Just as the ripple effects of Wazifa’s work spread out to embrace a large number of women, the relevance of the solar lamps in her life and work spread over a much larger sphere than her own home-cum-workshop. All the women workers of Chatra need the solar lamps during the frequent power failures. Wazifa would be the first to say that whatever benefits her family of co-workers, benefits her. She gets personal satisfaction from seeing the solar lamps being used in all the local houses, and under which her proteges work at night and “learn to stand on their own feet”. She herself has a bigger solar charging unit, which runs three large solar light panels in her workshop. In the late evening, after the garments are packed for the day, she sees her extended family off, each group of 5-6 women carrying a solar lamp to power their way through the mud paths.