How women used the tradition of weaving to revive flood-ravaged rural Himalayan villages

Laureate
Mukti Datta
Venture
Mandakini Women Weavers
Program
McNulty Prize
Location
Uttarakhand, India
Year
2016
McNULTY PRIZE LAUREATE
Mandakini Women Weavers is an initiative to bring economic relief, empowerment and self determination to women in India’s Himalayan foothills through the production of luxury handloomed products.

In the wake of the 2013 floods, Mukti Datta set out to implement the lessons of reviving rural economies she learned from pioneering the Panchachuli Women Weavers collective. The result, Mandakini Women Weavers, is a self-sustaining enterprise providing women, many of whom lost generations of male relatives and family breadwinners in the flood, with livelihoods linked to global markets. The success has catalyzed a new hub for the handloom industry across the Himalayas.

Mukti Datta, who grew up in the Uttarakhand region at the foothills of the Himalayas, has been a force for social change in the region since the 1980s. Mukti founded a series of NGOs to benefit the local population. In 1987, she created Jan Jagran Samiti, which mobilized locals to preserve forests and wildlife in the Binsar region being threatened from the timber mafia and poachers. Binsar was declared a national wildlife sanctuary in 1989. Other accomplishments spearheaded by Mukti include the first leprosy rehabilitation center in the region, the founding of Dena Hospital, one of the best-equipped secondary health care facilities in Uttarakhand, an intermediate vocational college for girls, five primary schools and two junior high schools.

Mukti Datta has spent decades speaking out against human rights and environmental violations, corrupt officials and outdated government policies in the Uttarakhand region of India and beyond.

In 1995, Mukti Datta and women from the Kumaon district of northern India founded the Panchachuli Women Weavers.

Panchachuli became economically independent in 2006, a successful model known on a global scale for the quality and craftsmanship of its wares.

In 2013, Mukti and the women of Panchachuli expanded the model to the women of the Kedar Valley following the devastating floods there, creating Mandakini Women Weavers.

The whole society changes when women can earn a livelihood.

— Mukti Datta

The roots of the Mandakini Women Weavers collective ie in the success of Panchachuli Women Weavers, which Mukti Datta started to change the fundamental economics behind traditional societies where women were not educated or respected as equals. Women who joined transitioned from unpaid work like firewood gathering to producing high-end handicrafts. With an income and a valuable skill, Panchachuli empowered women not only by improving their finances but by giving them local influence and leadership. Not only did this mean a greater voice for adult women, but girls started receiving equal education to boys, since they were now also seen as future earners.

After the catastrophic floods in the Kedarnath Valley, Mukti and the women of Panchachuli decided that the best way they could help was to bring their skills and economic model to the widows of the catastrophe. The flood occurred near the holy Kedarnath Temple, where visitors come in droves for pilgrimages, washing away generations of men who made their livelihood selling products to visitors.

Along with a cadre of Panchachuli veterans, Mukti helped train 300 women in the Mandakini weaving cooperative, who are releasing their first line from one of India’s top designers. In only a few years, Mandakini has garnered enough government and regional interest to expand the model across 7 sites, cementing Uttarakhand as a new hub for handloom excellence, providing support, materials, training and access to global markets for thousands of weavers in the state.

We [Panchachuli] had a meeting [about the floods]. The women said ‘It’s not good enough to give money, what we should give is our skills.

— Mukti Datta

800 Women
Employed by Panchachuli across 32 villages
Higher Income
For hundreds of women, now empowered to take up leadership positions in their communities.
2,000 Women
Will be trained over the next 5 years across 5 state districts.
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