Journalist and filmmaker from Brazil, Alexandre Amaral, travelled across the rural area of Barabanki to understand how Digital Empowerment Foundation’s (DEF) Digital Clusters Development Program (DCDP) digitally empowers traditional artisans and weavers. This is part of his ongoing travel log.

Streets of Saidanpur.

Not much sets the village of Saidanpur, Barabanki, apart from any other village in India. At least that’s one’s first impression. Until he / she dares to take a closer look at the jaw dropping craftsmanship that happens inside each of the villagers homes. With a cultural heritage and family traditions that go back centuries, weavers from Saidanpur are literally the working hands that keep Indian designs as vibrant as ever in the 21st century.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived to India, I had the chance to tag along Utkarsh Rajawat, project officer of DCDP in the Barabanki area. Through this journey, I met some of the most kind and hardworking people I ever met. Here’s what I found.

Nargis Banu, at her everyday workstation. The Kargha.

A family tradition

“I have learnt it now in the past ten years,” said Nargis Banu, while showing me how her impressive Kargha (weaving instrument) worked. “I work here from 5 AM to 5 PM.” Despite working longer hours than any city born would ever dream of, a proud smile and sense of accomplishment never left her face.

Nargis was one of the many weavers at Saidanpur who worked at the Kargha, a massive weaving instrument that usually stays inside weavers’ homes and is passed on by generations. She explained to me the process behind making traditional handkerchiefs, stolls and saris. “First we dye it, and then we collect it all. We straighten the threads and convert it into a reel. That’s how the Kargha starts.”

After meeting her, I took another look around her village. A storm had just passed and people started to put some of their colorful pieces of clothing / weaving to dry at the sun. Life suddenly started to appear in front of my eyes. “The Kargha has been here since the time of our grandparents,” she said. When I saw those incredible designs being spread everywhere, I started to understand why.

Designs visible at Saidanpur.

Hard work

However, the relationship of weavers with their craft is bittersweet. Many times, the very hands that craft the most remarkable pieces of clothing and art are the ones that are least rewarded.

Nargis told me that she and her husband are independent as weavers, and don’t need help from anybody else. But that’s not the future she wants for her daughter, who she wishes will be formally educated.

Throughout recent years young people are leaving the village to try different opportunities at bigger cities. If at one point, most of the Saidanpur village consisted exclusively of weavers, which is not the case anymore.

Her husband, Siraj Ansari, reveals that while it is a lot of hard work, they only “earn enough to keep food on the table”. A problem that affected the entire weaver community.

The weaving process. Preparing the thread.

Digital Empowerment

Seeking to address that injustice, DEF launched the Digital Clusters Development Program. It’s an effort to lead weaving clusters towards maturity and sustainability through digital empowerment and socio-economic sustainability.

By providing digital communication between designers and weavers, and paying them a fair price for their products, the initiative fosters a healthy environment for the weaving tradition to thrive.

“Small weavers used to be exploited by the master weaver,” Utkarsh Rajawat, project officer of DCDP in the Barabanki area told me. “After the introduction of DCDP, the families connected to the program became capable to bargain the rates with them.”

Utkarsh Rajawat, project officer of DCDP in the Barabanki area.

He also showed me that many weavers are trained in WhatsApp Business, and connected to Instagram and Facebook to help them with marketing. Essential steps to helping them become financially free.

In DEF’s center in Saidanpur, Utkarsh showed me all sorts of products made by local weavers, including photographs of their clothing being worn in fashion shows. “This small village from Saidanpur, Barabanki, is now internationally known.” Tell me about a digital revolution.

Fashion show with DCDP’s products.

The people I met during this visit have indeed impacted me in a number of ways. I can only hope that not only their stoles make their way to distant lands, but that their stories of hard work and resilience are also able to inspire many, as they have inspired me.