Rags to quilts
One girl’s journey from being sold to a brothel to designing quilts for her future
KOLKATA, MARCH 2012: Thirty-nine pence. That was the promised amount Khadija* was willing to leave home and travel across the country for. Shabnam, a friend, had spoken vaguely of a job in a workshop in Mumbai. She would have to sew buttons on to clothes. For this she would be paid Rs. 30 (approx 39p) a day. The poverty she suffered was so great that even such a trifling sum offered hope.
Khadija had grown up in West Bengal, rummaging through garbage dumps in the streets with her mother. They collected rags and paper and looked for anything valuable enough to sell. Her father had died whilst she was still a baby and her mother had never been able to send her to school. When she was just 13, Khadija fell in love with a boy from the streets and married him. They had a baby girl, but the marriage was not a happy one and they separated soon after. When Khadija returned to live with her mother with her baby in tow, things went from bad to worse. Money and food were scarce and Shabnam’s offer of a steady job seemed like the perfect solution.
This is an example of the Kantha, type of embroidery that Khadija is now doing to provide a future for herself and her family.
But somewhere at the back of her mind, Khadija knew her mother wouldn’t approve of her going so far away alone. So she left home without telling her mother. She could always call her from Mumbai and explain. And when the precious money came, all would be forgiven.
When she reached Mumbai Khadija was sold, like so many others before her, into prostitution.
Fortunately, a month later she was rescued by police and Justice and Care. She moved back to West Bengal and re-united with her husband. They moved out of his family home and started over. Khadija’s husband used to work as a vegetable vendor, but with spiralling food costs, he found he wasn’t making any profit. He now finds seasonal work as a caterer. The work is erratic and when Khadija gave birth to a baby boy, Justice and Care decided to help the family.
Justice and Care wanted to help Khadija start a small business so that she could be financially independent. Because Khadija can sew and embroider beautiful Kanthas (thin quilts), our Care and Intervention team thought it would be a good idea for her to develop this skill. After careful discussion and planning, we gave her the materials for a pilot project.
In West Bengal, the middle man working between the artisan and the market usually takes the lion’s share of the profit. For Khadija, we wanted things to be different. We paid her a fair wage to sew her first four quilts and we are exploring the market to get the best price.
Once the quilts are sold, Khadija herself will receive all the proceeds from the sales and more material so that she can begin to build a viable business. Justice and Care will help her with every aspect of setting up this business for as long as she needs our support. We are also taking care of her son’s medical expenses after he fell ill with pneumonia so that she does not have to worry about his health. He is slowly recovering.
“I am so happy that this opportunity has come my way,” says Khadija. “I want to save to buy a small plot of land and build a home for my family.”
* name changed to protect identity