A modern avatar of the charkha is helping Kashmiri women make a living through spinning yarns
A Srinagar-based shawl manufacturing company has distributed modern spinning wheels to local women and trained them to spin pashmina and silk threads on the foot-operated charkhas. The women, many of whom work from home, earn Rs 5,000 a month.
Sadaf Shabir 26 July 2023 7:06 AM GMT
In the picturesque neighbourhood of Narwara Eidgah, in Srinagar, there is an air of purpose amongst the women who stream into an old two-storied building to work.
On the ground floor, a hum fills the air as about seven of them are busy working on spinning wheels on which they spin fine threads into pashmina yarns. These would be used to hand-weave the world-famous Kashmiri pashmina shawls and stoles in another part of the building.
The wooden building belongs to a private enterprise called Me & K founded in 2021, by Syed Mujtaba Qadri. The company is a Kashmiri shawl manufacturing enterprise.
Qadri did more than just set up an enterprise. He introduced a modern table-top charkha that is foot-operated and has made spinning faster, more efficient and safer for the women who work the charkhas.
Kashmiri women have been trained to use these spinning wheels and at least 300 women have been provided free charkhas by Qadri’s company. These women spin pashmina and silk yarns, either at home or the company office, and supply to the company, and earn up to Rs 5,000 a month.
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Lubna Zehra is one such woman. Coming from a conservative family, she said working outside of home was not an option. “However, I always wanted to earn my own livelihood without burdening my husband, father, or brothers. Me & K gave me my beacon of hope,” Zehra told Gaon Connection as she spun on the charkha.
“My father supported me in taking up this work. This is a sustainable livelihood opportunity where I could work comfortably from within the confines of my home. This profession is also considered modest in Islam,” Zehra pointed out.
“Ever since I began spinning pashmina yarn, and began earning without stepping out of home, my life has changed for the better,” she added.
Yarn spinning or yender as it is known locally, is said to have been brought into Kashmir from Iran in the 14th Century. Women in Kashmir found spinning a profitable venture as they could earn some money without crossing their thresholds.
But over the years, due to political instability and the pandemic, spinning went into a decline. Me & K’s initiative has revived the practice.
According to the company’s founder Qadri, he wanted to do something for the women in his community and provide them with an avenue for economic independence and personal growth.
So, his company decided to distribute the modern table-top charkhas free in the neighbourhood and this led to a surge of excitement, especially for the women who preferred to work from home and not step out.
“As part of our initiative, we have provided 300 women with free modern charkhas, which are crafted by our own carpenters in Kashmir. Each charkha costs Rs 7000,” 51-year-old Qadri told Gaon Connection.
The company has trained women in using these charkhas which are placed on a table and women do not need to sit on the floor to spin. The spinning wheels are foot-operated and women find it convenient to use them.
Qadri informed that free raw material was provided to the women who spun and gave his company the yarn. The company bought the yarn from them. “However, if they decide to sell their products to other companies, they have to procure the raw material themselves,” the founder clarified.
Suhail Fayaz, manager, Me &K, told Gaon Connection that of the 300 women who received the free charkhas, the company has successfully trained 250 to operate the modern charkha. “Ours is a comprehensive shawl manufacturing enterprise, and spinning is a crucial part. It is the raw material we need to craft our shawls,” he said.
The response from women has been tremendous, Fayaz said, with many stepping forward and embracing the opportunity to work from their homes, gaining independence and financial stability.
“Many of the women work for us from their homes on a part-time basis. The yarn they weave for us goes into making our brand of hand-woven pashmina,” the manager added.
This helped the company become self-sufficient in yarn it needed for its shawls, and at the same time it gave these women the freedom to work from home and sell the yarn to other interested parties, if they so wish to.
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“I spin the pashmina yarn here and for every 10 threads of pashmina I spin, I earn Rs 1.50. Earlier we earned only 50 paise for the same,” Yasmeena Lateef, who has worked with this company for two years, told Gaon Connection.
“Each thread I spin is 10 inches long, and today, I am proud to say that I can earn as much as Rs 5,000 a month. That money is all mine to do what I want,” she added.
“Previously, I used the traditional charkha, for which I had to sit on the floor and work the heavy contraption. It left me with aches and pains,” narrated Yasmeena, who is in her mid 30s. “However, since transitioning to these modern charkhas, I am so much more productive and efficient as I can spin for longer hours without any discomfort,” she added.
Fahmeeda Akhtar, from Zadibal Hawal, is a full time employee at the company. “I was in dire need of employment to support myself and many of us were left jobless during the pandemic,” the 20-year-old recalled.
“When a friend told me about Me & K, I wasted no time and sought training from the skilled professionals there and have since been working here full time,” she told Gaon Connection.
Fahmeeda said that there was a potential to earn up to Rs 8,000 a month at the company, spinning yarn. “For me it is like a second home where I get financial stability as well as personal growth,” she added.
Saying this, Fahmeeda went back to spinning on the wheel creating a rhythmic buzzing sound of the lower floor of the building. Next to her, a creaky rickety stairway led to the first floor of the wooden building where there was a hush.
Kashmiri men sat there, bent over their work, needles going in and out, embroidering intricate motifs on the beautiful shawls keeping the centuries old tradition of Kashmiri hand woven and hand embroidered shawls alive.