Women like Malati or Kanchan from interior villages of Bihar rarely make headlines, yet their everyday life is a saga of endless struggles worthy of stirring novels. Born and bred in poverty, they fail to acquire even the basic education and are married off early. For most of them, their plight knows no bounds at the in-laws’ home where abuse, violence and neglect welcome them, hoarding the proud banner of patriarchy.
Malati, who hails from Gaya, was pushed to the edge by an alcoholic and abusive husband. She decided to take a bold step. She joined a team of thirty other women like her, who were trained and employed by ‘Matr’ (मातृ ) in The Happy Hands Project – an organic fashion venture which turns temple flower waste from Bodh Gaya into colourful dyes for Khadi clothes.
The first few days were hard for Malati. Her mother-in-law was severely apprehensive; her husband used to snatch away her phone and force her to stay home. Her character was questioned. But, things changed once she started earning. The little financial independence she secured for herself earned her respect at home. The violence stopped, so did the mental abuse she tolerated days after days.
Speaking to Efforts For Good, fashion designer Praveen Chauhan, co-founder of ‘The Happy Hands Project’, also shares the story of another woman, Kanchan. “She was abandoned by her husband at a very young age. She was helpless, living as a ‘liability’ in her father’s place. But, when she became a part of this project, Kanchan was determined not to depend on her father anymore. A few days back when I called her, I could sense the rejoice in the voice of her family member who answered the phone,” shares Praveen.
More than a simple job
For the marginalised women in Gaya, The Happy Hands Project is more than a mere job. It is their magical key for stepping out of their dingy four walls, damp with their untold stories and tears. The project was started in September 2018 and has engaged around thirty women from the adjacent villages so far. Praveen informs, “We have plans to recruit up to 250 women by the end of February 2019.”
Praveen collaborated with designer Kathy Williams from Australia, an expert in natural dyes, for The Happy Hands Project. “We met at the Lakme Fashion Week and our aligned interests soon led to this project,” he shares. Praveen’s brand ‘Matr’ and Kathy’s brand ‘Because Of Nature’ joined hands with Bodhgaya Temple Trust for this project. “We received immense help from DM Abhishek Kumar Singh,” he mentions.
About The Happy Hands Project
So what exactly is The Happy Hands Project? Handmade natural dyes are prepared from heaps of flower waste at the Bodh Gaya shrine by the local women. True to its name, the product is indeed curated in the tireless hands of women, whose lives have seen a ‘happy’ turnaround at the workshop.
“Mostly we find women in rural India opting for work in stitching and handicrafts. Gaya was no exception. However, our project opened up an entirely new professional dimension for them,” Praveen asserts. The working women are trained with precision before they dip their hands into the monumental heaps of marigold.
Every day, especially during the festive months like now, the Mahabodhi temple records a footfall of thousands, from all around the world. Flowers are an integral part of offering prayers, and as a result, around 200 to 400 kgs of flower waste are generated daily.
After segregation, drying and processing, the flowers are ground into fine powder, from which the dyes are born. These then find their way to colour Khadi fabrics in earthy hues.
Who is Praveen Chauhan
Fashion designer Praveen Chauhan is not a new name in the domain of sustainable fashion. Nearly a decade ago, he decided to opt out of the glam and glitz of the fashion industry and find his inspiration among the forgotten textiles of India.
While the trend of eco-friendly clothing is catching up worldwide, Praveen believes the whole concept has its roots in India itself. “Yet we are drifting away from it, towards synthetic products,” he laments.
The conscious designer and social entrepreneur has worked at the grassroots level, identifying traditional Indian fashion surviving dimly in scattered interior regions. His designs have found much acclaim at international fashion weeks and are representing ancient India in a new light to the world. Praveen latest venture is ‘Matr’ – a sustainable fashion brand to revive Khadi in Bihar, his birthplace.
“The artisans deserve all the credits”
The efforts of The Happy Hands Project have been recognised by the state government as well as national and international media. But for Praveen and Kathy, all that matters is saving the planet and the helpless lives on it. “I don’t want to take any credit for this project. To be honest, without our artisans we are nothing. They deserve all the credits,” shares Praveen. “Changing the lives of these women is the best award we could ever ask for,” he beams.