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A collective of refugee women from Afghanistan are working to preserve their traditional hand embroidery

The idea of Atiqa came up after interaction with lawyers at Migration and Asylum Project (MAP), a Delhi-based refugee law centre that provides legal assistance to refugees seeking asylum before the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in India.

Written by Surbhi Gupta | New Delhi |
February 27, 2019 6:29:42 pm
Every girl in Afghanistan has to learn embroidery. (Express photo)

It was six years ago when Sanaz (name changed), a youth activist in Afghanistan’s Kabul, had to flee her country to save her life. Reason: she along with a few friends had organised a fashion show in the city. The video went viral with the message that the girls were promoting western values and culture. “People were angry, and the only way forward was to flee the country,” she says. Soon, she found herself in Delhi and since then has being doing some odd jobs and embroidery work to make a livelihood.

They recently launched their eponymous label at Dastkar’s Basant Mela. (Express photo)

Every girl in Afghanistan has to learn embroidery. “You are not considered a good bride if you don’t know how to stitch. Generally, women stitch at home and try to sell their products through local vendors. I remember when I was young girl, my mother used to scold me when I spent time embroidering, for we used to make carpets for a living. But I loved doing this,” she says. Her skills and interest are now taking shape with Atiqa, a collective of refugee women from Afghanistan, who are reinventing their traditional hand embroidery on Indian saris and stoles, in a bid to preserve the craft and sustain a livelihood. They recently launched their eponymous label at Dastkar’s Basant Mela.

Among the many embroidery styles, khamak, gulatlaz, bati dozi and giraf are a few that they decided to work with. (Express photo)

The idea of Atiqa came up after interaction with lawyers at Migration and Asylum Project (MAP), a Delhi-based refugee law centre that provides legal assistance to refugees seeking asylum before the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in India. Later MAP approached Dastkar, the non-profit organisation working for the revival of traditional crafts in India. Its co-founder, Laila Tyabji, agreed to mentor the women through workshops. “What is different about the Afghan technique is that it involves counting each thread in the fabric to weave patterns, unlike other types where one can print the design on the fabric and embroider on it. Hence it requires more skill and one also needs a good eyesight. Also the wool and silk that they used back home had threads that could be counted. These are not available in India. So we went across the markets and then decided to work on linen,” says Tyabji.

Among the many embroidery styles, khamak, gulatlaz, bati dozi and giraf are a few that they decided to work with and Tyabji introduced new colour schemes and designs to, which, according to her, will work in the Indian handicraft market. “They did not know how to work on saris, so they were apprehensive initially. The first few pieces did not come out well, but then they eventually got a hang of how to go about it,” adds Tyabji.

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