Fatelines: How the Threads of Mirzapur Changed the Destiny of Mirzapur's Women

Women Empowerment and Its Need

The first wave of feminism started in the early 19th and 20th centuries. However, numerous thinkers had begun to publish writings, books, and articles long before it officially became a movement. Today, when we talk about women empowerment and feminism, there is a social divide. Some feel that women are already empowered enough and that there is no need to actively discuss it further. Others believe that women, in many cultures and diasporas, are still considered the weaker gender, and that there is an urgent need to change this narrative.

This hypothesis leads us to the conclusion that change doesn't come easy. It takes generations and centuries to bring about substantial change in people's mindsets. If, after all these years, there are still people questioning the need for women empowerment, it is clear that the issue has not been fully resolved.

Destiny of Mirzapur's Women

Women Empowerment in Rural India

In the Indian context, the problem of women empowerment still persists, especially in rural areas. Thanks to education and various governmental schemes, issues such as female foeticide, lack of education for women, and lower pay structures have been addressed to some extent. However, this progress does not extend fully to rural India, where the underprivileged section of society constitutes 64.61% of the total population.

While the government is taking necessary measures and initiatives to fight these stereotypes, it is also our social responsibility as the privileged section to help our fellow citizens. If you are wondering whether you fall under the privileged category, consider the device on which you're reading this blog and the language you're reading it in. These two factors alone indicate that you have access to education and resources necessary to stay connected with the world. Most women in rural India lack these privileges.

Obeetee Carpets for the Women of Mirzapur

At Obeetee Carpets, we feel extremely grateful to be part of a 102-year-old legacy that allows us to not only preserve an age-old craft but also help the women weavers of Bhadohi, Mirzapur find their own path and voice. We understand that bringing such a revolutionary shift is not easy, but we believe change happens when you take the first step. In 2015, we initiated the women weavers' program, and it has recorded an astounding 400% increase in female labour participation, making it a poster scheme for financial freedom and self-reliance among women in India.

In just seven years, over 1800 women from the villages of Mirzapur have overcome societal hurdles and age-old patriarchal practices to become master craftsmen, weaving the most spectacular and intricate carpets. And this is just the beginning.

The Beginning of the Women Weavers Program

The initiation of the program was not purely altruistic. Obeetee was facing a worrying attrition in the weavers' workforce, as many of them migrated to the cities in search of a better life. As a result, the women were left behind in the villages. These women were smart, had a desire to work, needed the money, but had no opportunity. That's when we started the women weavers training program. It wasn't easy to convince women to come forward and learn, even though we offered free training along with a stipend. We had to work hard to persuade the village elders to encourage women to participate. We also provided an attached crèche to make it easier for young mothers to join. Once the first few training centers became successful, the program took off.

Over the years, we have witnessed this program grow from strength to strength. Nearly 1,800 women have been trained, and the majority of them have become phenomenal weavers. We have also observed that these women spend a significant part of their earnings on their children's education and invest heavily in their daughters' education and health. The women's program is the beating heart of Obeetee today, representing the value we place on working towards a more equitable world.

Most of these women can tie up to 9,000 knots a day, creating intricate designs ranging from 15 to 300 knots per square inch. Some carpets take a year of laborious work to complete. Many of these carpets adorn India's greatest residential address, the Rashtrapati Bhawan, including one that measures over 450 square meters and contains a staggering 100 million intricate knots.

Recently, many of these women were part of a remarkable record: dressing up India's most iconic bastion of democracy.

Fatelines Photo Exhibition

As a tribute to these women and to better understand the nuances of their lives, Obeetee has organized "Fatelines: How the Threads of Obeetee Changed the Destiny of Mirzapur's Women." This photo exhibition captures the women working with the looms, laughing with each other, and breaking free from patriarchal shackles. The photo series, shot by Kounteya Sinha, is an impeccable display of art in its most raw form, showcasing how these women are weaving their own grand stories. On the first day of the four-day exhibition (from July 10th to July 13th, 2023), Obeetee invited dignitaries like Tara Gandhi and Amitabh Kant, as well as the women weavers who were featured in the photographs.

Through a collection of 65 photographs, the exhibition unravels sensational stories of these women who, until 2017, had never stepped out of their homes. Faced with husbands who were either alcoholics, gamblers, or simply unwilling to work, these women made a rare rebellion by becoming the breadwinners of their families. They took the bold step to learn the ancient art of carpet making, and in doing so, have become the torchbearers of a changing society.

"Fate Lines" portrays their inspiring journey, highlighting their determination, resilience, and the significant role they play in reshaping the social fabric of the region. These women have shattered traditional barriers and become symbols of empowerment and progress. The exhibition serves as a testament to their courage and Obeetee's commitment to transforming lives and fostering a more inclusive society.

If this blog has intrigued you to experience this exhibition, we invite you to visit Bikaner House, New Delhi, today.