Rehat Ansari

Rehat Ansari

Artisans Co-operative

As I sat within the ramparts of Design Sewa, waiting for Rehat to come and talk to me, I observed how zealously artisans worked on their pieces of craft; some sat in groups, some alone, working meticulously. They seemed to be working with great enthusiasm and passion. It was addictive. I looked for Rehat and in the room right across the corridor that separated the hall I was sitting in, I saw her skillfully stitching a piece of cloth. She finished it in 10 minutes, counted all the pieces she had just completed, packed them in a box and made her way to the hall.

With a smile on her face, she greeted me. "I've been working here for 10 years now", she began. "I joined Design Sewa when I was 14 years old while I was still a student. I worked here as an artisan and today I am a production coordinator here".

Coming from a family of five siblings, she talks about how she and her brothers work. Her youngest brother is still just a beginner in his field of work. Her voice lowered. "My father passed away a year back due to cancer."

Rehat talks about the riots that affected her life in 2002. She talks about how her entire family was dislocated and they had to live in camps organized for their safety. "In 2002, Gomtipur- the place where I used to stay was severely affected by riots. All the houses in our locality were burnt. Only our line of houses was spared. People vacated their homes and started living in the camps. I still remember that it was a Friday and we heard rumors that our houses will be set on fire. My sister was due to get married shortly and since we were girls, our mother asked us to shift to the camp while she decided to stay in the house. She said she will stay back to protect it. My brothers resented our going there because they knew that there would be men in the camp where we stayed and in our Muslim community, women are not allowed to step out of the house or show their face to other men. They said that it won't look good for us two girls to stay at the camp alone. But my mother knew that we were not safe in our area. She insisted that we shift so we finally moved to the Bakarshah camp.

When there was no curfew, my mother used to come to meet us there. No one had any income in the camp and our livelihood was severely affected".

Then with a smile on her face, she spoke about how SEWA came as a breather for her during those trying times. "Sairaben, who was a member of the Artisan co-operative, started bringing stitching work for us, on behalf of the Sewa Co-operative Federation. Gradually as the situation improved, we brought our stitching kits from the camp and started working from home."

Initially Rehat did not know how to stitch or use the sewing machine. With time and training, she was able to learn stitching and she started creating various products. She was pretty satisfied with the work she did as it also got her more money than what she would have received had she gone to a merchant for the same. Rehat started earning close to Rs. 60 a day as compared to Rs. 5 – 6 she would earn through merchants.

Talking about how she also struggled, she mentions "We did not inform our brothers about the work because they would be upset that we went to Hindu areas to find work as it was not safe according to them post riots. Then one day Lalita ji called all the women who had worked at the camp, to the Federation office. She told us that now that we have learnt the craft, we should not abandon working. She asked us if we wanted to work and we said 'yes'. I then worked in the project 'Shantipath' for three years. By this time, my sister got married and I had to go all alone to my work place. Working for Shantipath didn't come easily. Long hours of work would be a problem for my brothers as they did not approve of me working or going out for work."

Coming from a conservative background, Rehat's mother was not so keen on her working outside or for long hours either. Finally, Jyotsanaben went home with Rehat and after clarifying all her mother's doubts, she let her continue this work. Now Rehat is one of the main earners of her house, helping them through their financial crisis.

Rehat was to marry a person her parents had chosen when she was in the 12th grade. Since her inlaws were not so keen to have an educated daughter in law she was told to leave her education half-way. She discontinued school, but eventually her marriage got cancelled.

Rehat is now earning her own money. She works towards changing the traditional perspective her mother has. Through Rehat and the exposure she has provided to her own mother, Rehat's mother is now open to the idea of her grand daughters gaining an education and working too. Rehat has managed to get her brothers' daughters insured and train them towards savings and earnings.

Rehat always wanted to be a designer and with the help of the Sewa Co-operative Federation, she has undergone various trainings in different types of crafts and skills. "I may not have a fashion degree, but I am completely equipped to design clothes and products" says Rehat as she beams confidently.