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Women of Nanoor Challenging the Gender Stereotypes

Till 2005, being a full time homemaker, Tajkira Begum was raising her 4 children and had never stepped out of her house. But when her beautiful Kantha embroidery started being recognised as a 'skill', it led to her metamorphosis into an entrepreneur running her Kantha enterprise of 300 women with client base across India. 

Nanoor hasn't stopped creating more stories like Tajkira's ever since. Nanoor of Birbhum district is now recognised as a hub of Kantha artists with more than 600 women. 

The women have revived this age old traditional art of making layered quilts with intricate patterns and stories. Kantha was traditionally a leisure engagement for Bengali women when they converted old clothes into quilts and used them as the canvas to stitch their creative yearns

Kantha is now the means of earning livelihood for the rural women of Nanoor. They are now claiming their rightful place at their homes and society and ensuring that their voices are heard. 

The recognition of their cultural heritage as a skill has strengthened their identity as an 'artist'. Exposure and direct linkage with market has helped them evolve their skills and products providing the right impetus to their business. The recognition helped them to seek support from their families and community to let them reach out to different places. The annual mela at their place introduced as a strategy of our intervention, was instrumental in the process too. Once severely restricted for mobility, with their travel, they created new links and bonds. Today big cars, national and international visitors is a usual site at Nanoor. 

Interventions for developing Nanoor as a Kantha hub, in the own words of the women, has increased their earnings at least three times. 

Lovely Begum shares how once ostracized by her family due to her differently abled husband and subjected to frequent episodes of violence, today she is not only financial independent and an entrepreneur, she is the bread winner for her family. She is being able to take care of her children's study. Lovely's is not a stray story, confirm Ammena, Afrunnisa and ther others.

Kulia Tantubay Samity is the artists’ collective in Nanoor. The collective comprises of several self help groups. A two storied common facilities centre (CFC) provides much needed work space and storage space. The collective organizes the annual village festival of the Kantha artists.

Currently Kantha is a force multiplier of sorts. The most encouraging aspect of this exercise is the willingness of most of the artists to take the plunge as entrepreneurs. Examples of accessing institutional credit for investment in business are already there and most of the women artists are now ready to evolve as owner-creators.

The younger girls of Nanoor have already made up their minds. They want to pursue Kantha. To them, it is a very simple choice. They have excellent role models in their mothers and aunts. They want to use their education to further Kantha and are sure that this is what will earn them the respect of an 'artist'.  


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