Meet our women.
ANKURI partners with and provides employment to over 100 women in rural Uttarakhand, Northern India.
Here are their stories.
“I felt alive when I started knitting. I just felt alive. I never went to school but I studied with my brothers. My father-in-law said there was no use in me being educated. Even though I know it is not possible, I would love to go back to my studies. I especially wish I could learn to read. I would read everything.”
Sarba moved into a mountain village twenty-five years ago when she married. The elegance that Sarba carries herself with makes her a natural leader within the community of women, and she finds her joy and relaxation in knitting daily.
“I left my village and entered a new community when I got married. Knitting has allowed me to become immersed in this new community.”
Marrying and moving to a new village is a common yet difficult experience for many girls like Kavita. She has been knitting at ANKURI for three years now. “With my earnings I love buying my three-year-old new clothes. I want to teach him to knit someday,” she says. And how did she balance her household work and knitting for ANKURI? She laughs and says, “the decision to make time for ANKURI came from my heart— I am the type of person who refuses to sit around the house, empty-handed. I know other women around here that used to knit, but have since quit. They tell me that I can only work because I have a lot of free time. I don’t agree with this and I hope to change their mindset. I want these women to realize that it’s not about having the 'free time'— it’s about making the time to do what you truly want to do.”
“Through knitting, we all have a common interest. It unites the women of our small village. I feel closer to my friends and family through the bond we share. This is why I love to knit.”
Life in the foothills of the Himalayas makes knitting a necessity in the winters when temperatures are coldest. For generations, women living in these conditions have learn how to knit to keep their family members warm. Sumitra was used to knitting, but since she has been working at ANKURI she finds her efforts much more productive and goal driven. She has turned a need into a craft. Now in addition to keeping her kids warm, her talents can provide them with education. Her four children attend public school, and her husband works as a pharmacy assistant in Mussoorie. If given the choice, her favorite color to knit with is blue.
“After leaving my husband due to domestic violence three months ago I started working with ANKURI in order to support my five year-old daughter, Tanishka. I needed to be independent and stand on my own feet and earn a little bit.”
As her daughter, Tanishka, smiles and darts around the room, Babita explains that she married for love. “He was in a lower caste but my parents still supported my decision and got us married.” Now Babita lives with her father and step-mother, since her mother passed away when she was four years old. The story of how she became involved with ANKURI is a common one. “Before I started with ANKURI, my sister-in-law would ask me, “Why don’t you knit?” I always told myself, “Oh, I can’t do this.” A friend finally called and told me, “Babita, you have to do this.” This gave me the motivation to start. “I feel very empowered now that am able to create something that can be sold and appreciated. When I told the ladies at the center that I was worried about being able to learn how to make the cardigans, Tanishka told me “Mom, don’t be silly, of course you can learn!” In the last three months I’ve made five blankets. When I knit I find a great deal of peace and happiness.”
“I didn’t want to go to school when I was young. Instead, I learned how to make money wherever I could. I used to work constructing the mountain roads, and various other jobs.”
Pramilla's two youngest children attend an English-speaking school in Mussoorie, but her eldest had to drop out. He is seventeen years old and has been having trouble walking, speaking, and hearing. Despite these problems, Pramilla hasn’t been able to have him seen by a doctor, although she suspects he is suffering from polio. Six years ago, Pramilla lost her husband to tuberculosis. This fact isn’t one she openly worries about, but her son and the burden of her alcoholic brother-in-law that now lives with them prove to be more immediate preoccupations. With her earnings from ANKURI, Pramilla is able to run her home while caring for her children and putting away a little extra for them to “learn, study, and hopefully become something.”
“Around the same time that I started working for ANKURI six years ago I became the Pradhan—the village head woman—of Shigli. I am in charge of the local administration of my village. This includes the organization and management of our water, roads, and electricity, in addition to ensuring everything is working smoothly.”
Sunita uses her unique position of power to promote her passion for teaching. Through teaching the women in her village how to knit, she saw the potential of helping them become more financially independent. Sunita’s contributions to her household’s income supplement those of her husband who works as a mason. Together they work to raise their family of three children. Knitting for ANKURI at home allows Sunita to spend more time with her family.
“I am not sure if I think of myself as an artist yet. If I make something really nice, then I might believe that I am an artist.”
Rachna has just recently started working with ANKURI. Her mother-in-law convinced her to start because she saw the inconvenience that travelling by bus to work caused her other sisters. Rachna’s grandmother taught her how to knit when she was young using firecracker sticks as needles. She has mostly knitted simple hats and mufflers, and is keen to learn more complex designs. Rachna’s husband is a contractor, a profession that carries many politics along with it. Consequently, his employment can be erratic and varied. The income from ANKURI offers her family additional stability. If there is something expensive or nice that Rachna’s daughter asks for, she wants to be able to buy it for her.
“I use the money for cooking salt, for my children, for clothes, for their clothes ... (then shyly she revealed) ... and for my own clothes — I like to dress up.”
Chinta’s mother passed during childbirth. It was soon after Chinta’s eldest sister had been married off, so at fourteen Chinta dropped out of school to care for her other two siblings. After her mother died, she was lucky to have an aunt that stepped in to fill the roles of a maternal figure. She helped around the house, and was the only adult that would journey with them into the forest to collect wood. As one of the three centre leaders, Chinta is a feisty, yet respected, authority. Even though she is a matriarch in the community, she doesn’t feel the need to force her opinions on the women or nag them. Because of this, they gladly come to her with their questions. She looks forward to leading them in spinning once the facility is re-built.
“The best part of working for ANKURI is creating and learning. Much like when I cook something nice, it makes me very happy. But whenever I do something, I still want to be the best at it. As the former matriarch of the community, I was used to being in charge. Now with knitting, I am the one that learns from everyone else. I like learning from them, but no one comes to me with questions anymore!”
Shanti enjoys listening to folk music while she works, and although the night used to be her favourite time, her degrading eyesight leads her to work during the day. Everyone knows not to come close while she is focused on knitting, lest she make a mistake and her work be spoiled! Family is extremely important to Shanti, and although she has spent thirty-five years with her husband in another town, she finally convinced him to to return to her maternal home where she has happily raised her family with support from knitting with ANKURI.
"After I began working with ANKURI many people began coming to me to learn. This small thing makes me very happy."
With the skills gained from her work with ANKURI, Geeta loves teaching her friends and family. She also enjoys having her own money as opposed to relying on someone for help. Since starting work with ANKURI, she says she doesn't have to ask her elders to leave the house — she has the freedom to just go whenever she wants to. With her earnings Geeta is able to buy things for herself and her children. "We also have a special festival for our husbands to pray for their long life here. I love that I am able to get myself and the girls dressed up and have some money to spend on the celebration."
“I love to learn new things and create new things — I get restless if I don’t have something to knit."
The best part of working for ANKURI for Yashoda is that she can knit her favorite products while making an income. Yashoda says that she loves to knit cardigans, even though it is too hot to actually wear them here. "At this point, I could knit it with my eyes closed because I know the pattern so well.”
“I never thought that I would be involved in a place where I would be provided with quality wool, think of new designs, and learn to knit as well as I do now. The best part is that I am employed, yet I don’t have to leave my home or my kids behind to work.”
As a child, Urmilla learned how to knit using broomstick twigs. This was common so that children wouldn’t ruin their mother’s needles. She soon began to knit simple patterns for her immediate family. Urmila joined ANKURI ten years ago. With her first earnings, she decided to buy a traditional necklace called a mangalsutra. This is an important symbol of marriage, which her in-laws weren’t able to provide for her at the time of her marriage. Urmila smiles shyly as she tells us, “My husband doesn’t know, but I am now slowly saving up to buy a pair of matching gold earrings. When I knit I earn money to first look after my family’s needs. Then I am able to make sure that any small desires I have are fulfilled.”