Tuesday, February 9, 2016


The caste system in India was officially abolished when the country gained independence.  The reality, though, is that it is still very much alive.
  There are four levels of castes.
  • Brahmana (now more commonly spelled Brahmin): Consists of those engaged in scriptural education and teaching, essential for the continuation of knowledge.
  • Kshatriya: Take on all forms of public service, including administration, maintenance of law and order, and defense.
  • Vaishya: Engage in commercial activity as businessmen.
  • Shudra: Work as semi-skilled and unskilled laborers.

At the very bottom are those people who work with the dead, people and animals.

The people of Jawaja are leather workers.  They are considered unclean.
Here are some of the people and some of the items they create.

This little girl is playing jacks, without a ball and with pebbles

The people need to travel to markets to sell their leather items.  Sometimes they are kicked off the public bus, because no one wants to share space with them.  Sometimes at market, when they tell a customer that an bag costs 1,500 rupees, the person will throw 500 rupees on the table and walk off with the bag.

   When Charllotte Kwon met these people, they were deeply in debt.  They had formed a cooperative with a neighbouring village of weavers.  They took out a loan of 700 rupees to buy yarn.  Several years later, they owed 22,000 rupees.  The unscrupulous money-lender hadn't told them about compound interest, and he'd taken more money from them for supplies, which were never delivered.
   Charllotte worked with both villages, helping them develop their skills and artistry.  Instead of telling them how they should work and what they should make, she helped them develop their own ideas, and to learn how to excel.  Over the years, they have grown in skill, and in confidence.

When we arrived at their village, they greeted us with genuine affection.  I think they took as many pictures of us and we did of them.  When we looked through the items they had for sale, they paid attention, noticing which things drew the most attention, which colours and types of leather we bought and which ones were put back on the shelves.  They are learning and growing, as artisans, and as human beings.

Here are some of the different jobs they do.

These are water buffalo skins being tanned.  The hair has been removed (the smelly part of leather work,) and tannins and water are inside the skins.  The village also works with camel and goat skins.

The skin is scraped to soften and smooth it.

 A glass bottle is used to polish the leather.  The smooth glass, and the heat the rubbing produces, create a glossy shine.

You can see the bottle in the woman's hand in the picture below.

 Here, a leather lace is stitched to join two pieces of leather.  You can see the tool the woman is using in the lower picture.

This man is cutting strips for straps.

At the end of our time in their village, the elders and co-op board members gathered to thank us for coming and to tell us how much our delight in the things they created, and our purchases, meant to them.

Another intitative Maiwa has been involved in is the purchase of bicycles so the village girls can go to school.  The school is several kilometers away, and the bikes mean the girls can get there and back each day without needing the time that walking takes.  The bikes cost $100, and our group, on the spur of the moment, donated enough money for thirteen more.

   I find it tremendously moving, and an honour, to be able to learn about these people's lives.  They allow us to observe them, take pictures, ask questions.  They are also curious about us, and the time shared enriches all of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment