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How These Women Artisans of Bengal are Celebrating True Essence of Durga

Durga Puja is here, and like every year, it has come with its own promise of celebrating the female deity and the everyday goddesses around us. The five-day-long festival in West Bengal that commemorates Goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasur also resonates with the emancipation of women who had to fight their inner demons to make a standing in the society.

One such tale is found steeped in the heart of rustic Bengal, in a 1,000 sq. ft. enclosed space, which is brought to life every day with the laughter and mirth of 40 women, who until 2020, were only identified as someone’s daughter, wife or mother. But now they call themselves with pride the artisans of an all-women-run social venture, Pundora.

Pundora is run by a community of rural women who believes in the philosophy of ‘Art for Good’. Founded as a social venture, amid the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the venture represents art and art lovers, and is a bridge between the artisans’ huts to buyers’ homes.

Women Supporting Women

A brainchild of business professional, Subarna Mukherjee, Pundora was created out of a belief in the power of women coming together. With an aim to provide an open, safe and sustainable space for people to create, Pundora took under its wing several women who displayed tremendous zeal to learn a skill and gain individuality.

Talking to News18, Subarna recollects how she began her journey with a group of five women in one corner of her living room with a few strands of thread and a hope to create something meaningful.

Pundora is the brainchild of 30-year-old Subarna Mukherjee. (Photo: News18)

“We had difficult days, felt directionless but what kept our fervour alive was the enthusiasm of these women who were ready to begin from scratch, give in their all to find themselves again,” said Subarna.

Notably, only 20% of the women associated with Pundora are skilled artisans while the rest have never been employed and know little to nothing about embroidery or any form of art prior to their joining the team, revealed the 30-year-old social entrepreneur.

“At Pundora, we do not boast of working with master craftsmen. Instead, we work with next-gen artists, harness latent talent, nurture and train them to become experts in their fields. We started with hand-embroidery and gradually tapped into stitching, painting, printing and weaving. And while many in the team did not get the opportunity to have a formal education, they worked very hard to learn about design, procurement, manufacturing process, packaging, shipping logistics, marketing, customer service and running this venture,” Subarna tells News18.

White-Collar Dream

For 44-year-old Munmun, life revolved around packing lunch for her two teenage daughters or attending to her ailing parents. Watching different types of DIY videos on YouTube helped her pass her lonely afternoons but never did she think of making a career out of it.

Munmun, 44-year-old worker at Pundora. (Photo: News18)
Munmun, 44-year-old worker at Pundora. (Photo: News18)

“I have been with Pundora since its inception. The pandemic had proved difficult for my family. I could see my husband struggling to make ends meet. I wanted to help and that’s when I heard of Pundora. I have never looked back ever since. From 5, we grew to 40, and now we have an office to ourselves,” chirped the mother of two.

“It was a bid to help my family but I found my identity instead. My daughters have bought me a tiffin box because now even I am a working woman!” Munmun tells News18 joyously.

Munmun serves as the voice of all 40 women who have fought with their families, society, and, most importantly, themselves to be able to live a life of dignity.

A recent survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) brought to light that Bengal fared better in women empowerment index than many other Indian states including Gujarat. The survey said 76.5% of the total women population in West Bengal between the age group of 15-49 years have bank or savings accounts, which they themselves use. The number was slightly higher in urban areas with 82.9% as against 73.2% in rural areas.

It would be fair to conclude that there are myriads of small-scale ventures like Pundora who have been contributing to women’s growth and independence, enabling West Bengal to live up to its history where the power of Durga stands strong.

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