Among the dark clouds of fear, anxiety, and deprivation that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing blanket lockdowns brought to the world, the only promising silver lining was the coming together of people in weathering this storm. There have been stories of communities holding hands, helping each other survive the economic and social onslaught of the pandemic.
One such story, emerging out of a small locality in Nashik, Maharashtra, is of Rohini. Associated with Disha Mahila Bahuddeshiya Sanstha (DMBS), Rohini has not only been a community mobilizer but has also been a community leader, supporting the marginalized women around her to become self-reliant and skilled workers. “A lot of women who helped me during the lockdown were also facing issues regarding employment after the lockdown was lifted, so I thought I’ll hold a training session for skilling them in tailoring”, says Rohini.
Having faced hardships in her life from a very young age. She was a bright student at her convent school who wanted to enroll in the Indian Police Force. However, her parents were not well-off enough to take care of her, and she was married off at the age of 13. After that, she wasn’t allowed to pursue any vocation. She says, “I did not want to rely on anyone for money. The idea of sitting at home wasn’t suited to me. I asked my family to at least let me learn sewing and tailoring from the outside, but even that was denied to me. Finally, I practiced my hand on my mother’s old blouses.” Later, she used to sneak out of the house for an hour or two to learn tailoring from a master, and also learned the work of a beautician.
A few years later, when Rohini had set a base for herself, she was approached by DMBS to teach tailoring to individuals from the trans community. Post a long interactive interview with the team, she held her first session with 27 students.
Amid the fear of the novel Coronavirus and the lockdown, Rohini was once again approached by the DISHA to stitch 200 masks as that was the need of the hour. They were distributed quickly, she took whatever raw materials she had at home and stitched 200 more to spread within the community. “The vegetable vendors were all scared, and so were the people. We took to the streets and distributed masks to these vendors, prepared refreshments for people and police officers manning the area daily, and even distributed homemade hand wash and prepared food for an elder care home nearby”, she recalls.
Asked about what drove her to take these tailoring lessons, she replies “When I was young, I had to make ends meet on my own, without any support system. I came forward to lend these women the support I never had, and I hope they’ll do so for the women they know.” She firmly believes that women should be self-sufficient and economically independent so they don’t have to bend backward to borrow money from their husbands, or anyone in general.