How two sisters’ commitment scripting Moradabad’s brass industry’s future

Rashida Parveen (on the right) and Saiyyada Parveen (on the left) at their home.

Anushka Kogta and Namya Jain,

New Delhi: “This work not only supports our family but also sustains the entire Uttar Pradesh,” claimed 52-year-old Rashida Parveen, who has been working in Moradabad’s brass industry since her early teens.

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Popularly known as “Pital Nagri” (Brass City), the western Uttar Pradesh district is famous for its brass handicrafts industry. It is home to thousands of workers who keep the industry 9alive and thriving.

However, over the years, the market has experienced several changes that have impacted the industry. Despite challenges, two women are striving to sustain and revive the artform, aiming to bring better days not only for themselves but also for other women co-workers.

Having completed her bachelor’s in education and a training diploma in Natakashi (brass work), Rashida began learning the art of carving and sketching in her childhood. “Brass handicrafts have been practiced in my family for generations. Over the years, I realized that the work does neither make your hands nor your clothes dirty. What is required to become a good artisan is dedication and hard work,” she said.

Her sister, Saiyyada Parveen, started working at the age of 10 and has been doing so for the last 44 years. For both sisters, it was their father who sparked their interest in this field. “My father, Abdul Hamim, encouraged me to take up this work. When he went to offer namaz (prayer), I would carve wood, hammer metals and learn the craft of carving in his absence. I once carved a peacock out of wood, which made him very happy. I began with sparing little time for it, but later, with dedication, I became skilled enough to receive a state award,” says Saiyyada.

“When I came home from school, I would observe my father carefully. He used to draw with his pen, and I would use a pencil. My brother, who has received a national award twice, also encouraged me. He helped me with drawing and scaling, which further improved my skills,” she stated.

In addition to working at home, the two sisters also empower young girls and women. “We travel 16 kilometers every day to impart training to 250 children. After returning home in the evening, we give training to another batch of children and women here, especially those who work as domestic help. Many of them are now skilled artisans, who are earning a dignified living,” she claimed.

They train women without any distinction of religion or castes. “We impart training to girls belonging to different religions and castes,” said Saiyyada, emphasizing that this routine continues from morning to evening.

Rashida and Saiyyada have been helping women learn the art since 2002. “It was started after the Central as well as the state government sponsored him under the Training and Extension Scheme. While he began training men, we (the two sisters) worked with women,” explained Rashida.

However, as the number of artisans decreased, the training programme faced setbacks. “There are many mistakes in the artisans’ cards, which are issued by the department of handicrafts through its local offices in Kanpur and Bareilly. Only those with artisan cards could participate in the training. Since 2012, I have been going to the offices concerned to get the issue resolved,” said Saiyyada.

However, change in policies adversely impacted the quality of training. As a result, with the basic training and little support, it is impossible for women artisans to sustain in this industry for a long time.

“It is very similar to how a child progresses from nursery to higher education. Similarly, the women have learned only the basics of the artform, they have not been able to master it yet,” said Rashida, noting the lack of growth opportunities.

She further added that the government-sponsored training has now come to a halt due to the suspension of the scheme. “As a result, the artform is facing the threat of gradual extinction,” she said.

Azam Ansari, a member of Moradabad’s Brass Manufacturers Association, explained the National Handicrafts Development Programme (NHDP), which aims to support handicrafts clusters and artisans by providing essential resources and infrastructure to cater to the target market. “In 2012, the NHDP budget stood at Rs 1,500 crore, but it has now been reduced to Rs 500 crore. This budget cut has affected the training programme,” stated Ansari.

To address these problems, Rashida and Saiyyada established an NGO in 2018 to help women become skilled artisans. Gradually, women of all ages and from various walks of life got associated with it.

“We surveyed the women around us, understood their situations and made efforts to introduce them to the art form. They include widows who lost their husbands to COVID-19. We picked up their young children and the women who work as domestic help and began training them so that they become self-reliant,” said Saiyyada.

This initiative not only helped them become financially independent but also enabled them to receive a stipend of Rs 5,000 every month from the government. “We guided them to make good use of the financial assistance,” she said.

These efforts earned Rashida an honour from the state government. In 2022, she received a trophy and a prize of Rs 25,000. “In the first attempt, when I applied for the award, my application form was rejected. My family encouraged me to try again, and in 2022, I was finally shortlisted,” said Rashida, enthusiastically adding that “to achieve something big in life, you have to compete with others”.

“I received the award from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. He draped a shawl over me. I am happy that my art is reaching people,” Saiyyada said with a big smile on her face.

“We have mastered the craft, and we want more women to learn it and become skilled and advanced. When this happens, it will inspire and motivate others as well,” she added.

Rashida urged the government to formulate more schemes to help young children and women become self-reliant and empowered. “A college is proposed to be established here to make youngsters certified artisans, and I am glad to share with you that I have been selected as a teacher there. We faced difficulties but it only made us committed to pursue a career in this field,” said Rashida.

“What started as a small initiative has transformed the once hopeless lives of hundreds of women into a promising future,” she remarked and added, “We find joy in supporting and teaching others. Helping others brings blessings”.