4-10 October 2013 #676


Women in Janakpur are gaining financial independence through indigenous Mithila art
Bhrikuti Rai

Shiribati Mandal of Janakpur Women's Development Centre works on a screen print design.

Fourty-seven-year old Shiribati Mandal from Janakpur in Dhanusa district has never seen the inside of a school, but always had a keen interest in art. Whenever she found time from household chores, she would paint the earthen walls of her home with stunning motifs. Wanting to break out of the confines of the four walls of her kitchen, in 1998 she joined Janakpur Women’s Development Centre (JWDC), a cooperative of local female artists which has been promoting Mithila art and providing jobs for women in town and surrounding villages.

Shiribati is among 39 women at JWDC who are earning a living, while also preserving an ancient art skill passed down through generations. “I never imagined I could earn money with my paintings,” she admits. The mother of two has graduated from wall painting and is now an expert screen print designer. She says her family has no problem when she leaves for her ‘office’ every afternoon: “Time management is the key and my husband is happy that I am contributing to support our family.”

Women at the cooperative paint Mithila designs on different products like clay pottery.

When JDWC was set up in 1989, women working outside their homes was unheard of in Janakpur. “People used to stare at me when I cycled to work in the 80s, so you can imagine what they must have thought of working women,” says vice-chairman Manjula Thakur, who joined the centre in the early 90s. The cooperative not only helps artisans sharpen the craft they learnt from their mothers and grandmothers, but also gives them literacy classes and business skills so they can market their products. The women even have their own savings and microcredit program.

Mithila art dates back to 3,000 years to a region in what is now north Bihar in India and southeast Nepal. Inhabitants decorated walls of their homes with scenes from everyday life, rituals, festivals, and Hindu gods and goddesses. Its capital Janakpur was a seat of learning, a centre of spiritual and intellectual discourse, and the first city make contact with Oriental cultures.

Although JWDC mostly produces traditional Mithila art on canvas, it has also ventured into ceramics, textiles, and papier mâché. Its products have been featured at national and international fairs including the famous Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in New Mexico, USA. Last year the cooperative made Rs 3.5 million in profits.

Says Thakur: “I am happy that women in Janakpur can now freely ride their bikes, earn their living, and make decisions for themselves.”

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