A delicate pashmina yarn holds promise for hundreds of women in Kashmir valley. Powered by a modified charkha, over 200 women spinners have ended the year 2022 with doubling their output and income.
The modification in the age-old charkha has changed the life of Shaesta Bilal. Since the income is based on output of spinning, the foot pedal charkha has come to her aid.
In Srinagar's downtown area, women like Shaesta are spinning the finest yarn in the world and modified charkha has given them confidence and self-reliance.
"This (modified charka) has given us the means to make a living so that we are self-reliant. Thank God we are earning more and we are not dependent on anybody. Now I'm not financially dependent on my husband," said Shaesta Bilal.
Ms Shaesta was given a new charkha and training by a pashmina shawl trader in Srinagar a year ago. Since then she has graduated to a resource person for other women.
Over the last one year, more than 200 women have been trained and given modified charkhas. The initiative is part of an effort to protect and preserve the genuine age-old craft of pashmina shawls, which is facing a massive invasion of fake and machine-made shawls.
The government has also started GI (geographical indicator) tagging of Kashmiri shawls to preserve its unique character and value in the market.
Over the years, the number of women spinning pashmina has come down drastically in Kashmir valley, mainly due to low wages and less output on the traditional charkha.
According to Mujtaba Qadri, who owns the training centre for women spinners and equip them with the new charkha, the modifications in the tool were made by Shere-e-Kashmir Agricultural University a few years ago.
"I started training with a few women initially. Once we saw the results that we were able to double the produce, which in turns doubles the income of women, I decided to run this programme," said Mujaba, who runs a family shawl business.
Besides providing modified charkha for free, Mujtaba also give a-15 day training course to women spinners. "From our centre, over 200 women have been trained in the last one year and we have provided them modified charkha as well," he said.
At the centre, Nusrat Begum says life has become a bit easier for her after she was trained to use the new charkha. From squatting on the floor to sitting on a chair, her spinning production has doubled.
"It has helped me a great deal. I used to spin three gram of yarn on the old charkha. Now I can spin six grams," said Ms Begum.
For centuries, the secret behind Kashmir's elegant pashmina shawls is fine spinning by women. It further goes to master artisans for weaving. For making some shawls with intricate work, it takes months and even a year to weave.
While the new charkha helps women spin more and earn more, the wages are still less. For a knot, which is 10 threads of yarn, they are being paid Re 1.5. They want more.
"The charkha is very useful to us. We are thankful to Qadri sahib as he gave us this charkha for free and we are doing very well on it. We work at home and also train others. We requested him if could increase our wages," said Yasmeena.