Among the snow-capped peaks and verdant valleys of the Himalayan foothills of north India, a revolutionary experiment is quietly changing the lives of village families. Through the untiring efforts of local businesswoman and visionary, Mukti Dutta, women who expected to live their lives in poverty now own a stake in a cooperative which makes exquisite handcrafted cashmere and lambswool accessories for exclusive retailers around the world. Panchachuli Women Weavers was founded three decades ago and has provided training, employment, education, medical services, and most importantly, hope to the women of this isolated valley. In this interview with Mela Artisans, artisan weaver Parvati Ghosh, tells us about her life, describing how poverty gave way to possibility through her involvement with Panchachuli.
“My name is Parvati Ghosh. I am 54 years old and a weaver at Panchachuli Cooperative. I started working there about 15 years ago. Munni Didi came to my village and talked to some of us women about attending the weaving classes she was starting. She is the manager and helped start the weaving cooperative. Those weaving classes changed my life.
Before coming to Panchachuli, I used to while away most of my day after I finished my household chores. I was married off at the age of 15 and I had my first child at 19. Now I have 5 children- 2 sons and 3 daughters. My daughters are all married and live in their husbands’ villages. My two sons do manual labor. My husband is 60 years old and is unemployed because he is sick most of the time.
So you see why my income from the cooperative is so important. Since I started working at Panchachuli, I have been able to give my children a better life than I had. There was no school in my village to teach me beyond grade 5, so I stopped studying after that. Since I started working here, I have been able to send my children to school in the nearby village and buy them good clothes. Today, I run the household with the money my sons and I make. We have some land which we cultivate that brings a little additional income. And I have been able to save some money also.
But it’s not only the income that is important to me. I like working at Panchachuli a lot. It takes less than two days to make friends here! I feel restless and bored on the days that I’m not at work. I have never been outside of Almora. I have heard of Mumbai and Delhi and would like to travel there one day. Why not? My experience with Panchachuli has taught me that anything is possible.”