Raiza Kalukhan at the training session

Bhiwandi might be just 20 km away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, Maharashtra, but it felt like stepping through a time warp. On the old Mumbai-Nashik highway, Bhiwandi conceals around itself a thousand stories of villages that have risen and fallen in fortune, partly due to the emergence of industries and partly, due to the descent of agriculture.

As we pass through the narrow, dusty roads of Angaon, a village adjoining Bhiwandi, we come across a thatched roof house next to a busy road. A young Tauseef and his sister Ashiya step out to greet the visitors. Their grandmother too brims with enthusiasm. We have come to meet Razia Kalukhan, and the family acknowledges our visit with pride.

30-year-old Razia has been instrumental in reviving an old art form in her village and neighboring towns. As a girl, struggling to get to school from her house safely, securely and affordably, Razia had to drop out. Staying at home was the only option available. However, she pursued every opportunity to learn from courses in clay art, stitching, etc. As the years passed, her desire to contribute to her family’s income grew, and she began looking out for earning opportunities before she got married.

“Two years ago, I heard about the Warli art training from a local group. They told me that I could start earning too, which caught my interest,” she said. A co-created intervention by UNDP and LTI to   revive Warli art has given women like Razia an opportunity to channel their   artistic skills into livelihoods.

With on ground support from Friends Union for Energising Lives (FUEL), UNDP-LTI partnership has trained 750 women since 2017.

“The training was being organized right here in my village, so I didn’t need to convince my family to let me go out and work. And art has always interested me. So I wasted no time and began the training” said Razia.

Women receive training on the complete process of product design, production and inventory management. Crucially, they are linked to the market, where they can sell their products to customers through exhibitions and events.

“I used to go back home and practice daily. I designed coasters at first. Orders started coming in so I expanded my scope of work to fabric patches, palazzos and kurtis, mojaris (foot wear), trays, bags and other products,” she said, enthusiastically showing us her work. She adds, “My dream of contributing to my family’s income has taken off and they have stopped restricting me from going out now.”

Today, after two years of hard work and her ever-growing enthusiasm for art, Razia is an expert  Warli  art  trainer. “I am so glad to share my knowledge and skills with others.
I also get to represent our village at multiple exhibitions in cities”, says Razia.

With over 750 beneficiaries so far, the intervention has reached multiple groups of similar women artisans in over 30 clusters across the Mumbai and Thane districts.

“I found my happiness; a path of life and I want  to  continue on this path. I might start my own gift shop soon”, says Razia.

Razia’s success echoes those of the women residing in the dusty lanes of India’s villages, each ready to seize every challenge as an opportunity to grow and flourish.

The writer is Gopal Mallya, Project Manager, UNDP in India.

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