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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Melghat project focuses on creativity, natural art by tribal women on clothing, accessories

A step towards financial independence

Written by Parthasarathi Biswas | Pune |
Updated: May 11, 2021 8:47:23 am
melghat project, Avinash Hatwate, Dhatrom, melghat tiger reserve tribal womenDhatrom center at Chaurakund village (Express Photo)

A year ago, when Avinash Hatwate floated the idea of starting a business unit for women in the remote village of Chaurakund in Dharni taluka of Amravati, it was a small but firm step to give direction to their creativity and energy. Despite the Covid-19 lockdown and the problems that came with it, Dhatrom — the name of this project — is now ready to take flight.

Located close to the dense forests of Melghat tiger reserve, life is anything but easy for these women. Their day starts at 4.30 am and many have to chop wood and fetch water as part of their daily chores. Hatwate, however, said the womenfolk, despite the hard life, have abundant creativity. He said hailing from Korku tribe, art came naturally to them, and that the project aimed at giving the women a chance to generate a second income that could supplement their main earnings from the fields.

The Dhatrom project has been envisioned for women to use their skills in Warli, Korku, Gond and forest art to produce items such as bags, kurtis among others. Hatwate said the term Dhatrom meant sickle in Korku language. “The ubiquitous sickle is the constant companion of the women as they toil in forests, fields or home. But we want to transform it into a tool for their betterment, which would allow them be financially independent,” he said.

Another aspect of the project is to stop seasonal migration, which is rampant in the area. Melghat has long been associated with malnutrition, but Hatwate said this project was a tiny step towards a permanent solution to this problem. “Over the years, Melghat has become synonymous with malnutrition; we want to break this stereotype, literally one stitch at a time,” he said.

A year ago when the project started with two automatic sewing machines and 10 women, the first lockdown put a spanner in their plans. “Instead of stopping, we produced masks and sold them in nearby villages. This allowed us to generate some money,” he said.

This confidence was needed to take things forward. After things normalised in November, the project caught steam and, in January, Dhatrom was registered. Soon the women finished training and, on March 8, the small office-cum-production centre was inaugurated by Dr Mittali Sethi, project officer of ITDP Dharni.

The project, at present, has seven women from the village, of which three are well-trained while the others are in various phases of training. With the raw material they procure from the nearby commercial centre, the women produced 60 bags with handpainted Warli motifs.

“These motifs are not new to them — they revolve around their life in every aspect, but now we are trying to showcase them in a new frame,” Hatwate said, adding that with meagre resources, they could only advertise through word-of-mouth but a majority of the bags were sold out in cities like Mumbai and Pune.

Unfortunately, the second wave with its severity has once again brought the project to a halt, but neither the women nor Hatwate are dissuaded. “Our biggest concern is easy access to raw material. Even if we have orders, the raw material has to be easily available, which is not the case now,” he said.

As things go back to normal, Hatwate is talking about creating a cluster of 10 to 12 villages in the area as a production hub. “This project has potential and we want to harness the same,” he said, adding that talks were underway with the tribal development department for marketing the projects in Metro.

On their part, the project office is also optimistic. “I think we are going to start from home, ensure that we tap into people coming to Melghat for various purposes. So we have been thinking of buying spaces in project office, forest guest house, collector’s office. In time, we are planning for Dhatrom to be part of a larger Melghat brand, but we simultaneously need to ramp up supply. The project office will converge across departments and provide all support possible,” she said.

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