It is customary among the Rabaris, a tribal community from Kutch, to give away embroidered pieces as dowry. This means that that girls have to stay back with their parents until they are older because they have not finished the pieces to take to their husband’s home. To ease the burden on the girls, the village elders banned embroidery for personal use. But Pabiben Rabari realised the decision also meant they would no longer have a place to display their craft. With the support of her husband, Pabiben created a new form of embroidery. Called Hari Jari, where both lace and jari are used, her designs made use of trims and ribbons and were remodeled into bags, toilet kits, cushion covers, and quilts. Currently, her eponymous business in her village, Kukadsar, has over 60 women making more than 25 designs. Her website pabiben.com is popular across the world.
This contribution won 32-year-old Pabiben the Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar. Awarded to women who have made an outstanding contribution through entrepreneurship, by helping the community, Pabiben will receive a grant of Rs 5 lakh, along with a citation and a certificate. The award was launched by the Ladies’ Wing of the Indian Merchants Club (IMC) in 1993 to coincide with the birth centenary of Jankidevi Bajaj, a Gandhian who had been deeply involved in rural entrepreneurship during her lifetime.
Amita Haribhakti, the chairperson of IMC, says, “Her story has been incredible, set as it is after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. She gave the traditional embroidery work a new lease of life by introducing the Hari Jari work. We applaud her initiative to spearhead an entrepreneurial movement to impart vocational training and supply raw materials to make products. We commend her efforts in developing for women artisans a strong and viable business model based on a Gandhian approach. While maintaining their culture, self-sufficient women maximise creativity, take decisions and gain self-respect and recognition.”
It has not been an easy journey for Rabari, as she explains in her acceptance speech. The eldest among three daughters, Rabari helped support her widowed mother by filling water at people’s homes for just one rupee. Unable to go to school, she was drawn to traditional embroidery, which she learned from her mother. “With this business, our families are looked after and our livelihood is earned. We do not need to go to the city, back and forth in motorised vehicles, so there’s no harm to the environment or added pollution, there’s no exploitation in our work and everyone gets a fair share. These are the Gandhian principles that we follow in our work. Today’s award will inspire me to do better work. I offer this award to my fellow craftsmen,” says Rabari.