How This Social Enterprise Is Uplifting The Weavers Of Rajasthan

Through innovative strategies and direct engagement, Jaipur Rugs has uplifted 40,000 artisans, predominantly women, enabling them to earn dignified livelihoods
A woman weaver peeping through the threads of her handloom
A woman weaver peeping through the threads of her handloomKartikeya Shankar

It was in the village of Aspura, approximately 80 kilometres from Jaipur, that I met Prem Devi, who holds the title of "Bunkar Sakhi," i.e. an experienced weaver who supervises the other women and inspects the carpets made by them.

"Initially, my family was unsupportive of my weaving work. I worked for contractors back then within a system lacking timely orders and payments. About 12 years ago, handlooms were established in our village, and I too had one set up in my home. After years of dedicated effort, I was appointed as a bunkar sakhi. Presently, approximately 100 women work under my supervision."

Prem Devi holds the title of "Bunkar Sakhi"
Prem Devi holds the title of "Bunkar Sakhi"Kartikeya Shankar

For generations, India's skilled carpet weavers stood hunched over looms, their intricate artistry adorning floors across the globe. However, these hands that spun beauty also endured immense suffering. Debt trapped them in exploitative systems; middlemen advanced meagre sums for weddings or illness and then demanded repayment through backbreaking labour. This exploitation persisted for too long, leaving behind a legacy of struggle and a fight for fair wages and stolen dignity.

Then, in the latter part of the 1970s, a revolution emerged. One man named Nand Kishore Chaudhary, observing the struggles of underpaid carpet weavers, many from marginalised social groups, initiated a social enterprise called "Jaipur Rugs" to aid them. Initially modest, this venture commenced with Chaudhary collaborating with nine carpet-weaving artisans, operating on two looms in his native town of Churu, Rajasthan.

Nand Kishore Chaudhary
Nand Kishore ChaudharyKartikeya Shankar

"I founded this business on the principles of dignity, compassion, empathy, and love. Rather than transporting the weavers to looms within factories, I brought the looms directly to the weavers," a 70-year-old Chaudhary, now the Chairman and Managing Director of Jaipur Rugs, said while speaking to OT.

In the past, weavers like Prem were regarded merely as labourers despite aspiring to be recognised as artists. "We faced disrespect and financial hardships. However, now we receive timely monthly salaries. Moreover, we can expand our skills and learn new techniques."

Prem, who once encountered difficulties leaving her home, has now ventured to numerous locations for work, such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Goa. "I even had the chance to speak at an event in Noida, sharing my life journey with an audience," she expressed proudly.

Prem checking the threads of a handloom
Prem checking the threads of a handloomKartikeya Shankar

Like Prem, Aachi Devi, responsible for a household of seven, has emerged as the primary breadwinner for her family. With over two decades of weaving experience, Aachi began working for a thekedar. "Previously, our skills were undervalued and lacked recognition. We barely earned around INR 40-50 daily, insufficient to sustain my family." When looms were established in the village, Aachi's life transformed. "Initially, my husband and mother-in-law were against my work. However, my children supported me immensely. Now, things have changed for the better. We have a pakka home, which stands as one of my greatest achievements. Whenever visitors come, my mother-in-law warmly greets them with a handshake."

Aachi Devi
Aachi DeviKartikeya Shankar

Presently, Jaipur Rugs engages a workforce exceeding 40,000 home-based artisans spread across 600 villages in India, with a significant majority—80 per cent—comprising women. This initiative has empowered each woman engaged in carpet weaving to earn between INR 10,000-20,000 per month, depending on their productivity, experience, and the complexity of patterns crafted or the number of carpets produced—those with more expertise can command higher earnings.

Not Just Women

In addition to empowering the women in the villages, the Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF), a social innovator creating job opportunities that uplift rural India, has positively impacted the lives of men within the community, such as 48-year-old Harphool. The fourth-generation carpet weaver has been part of Jaipur Rugs for two decades, currently serving as the branch manager in Dhanota, a village in Shahpura Tehsil, Jaipur.

Harphool currently serves as the branch manager in Dhanota
Harphool currently serves as the branch manager in DhanotaOfficial Website/JRF

However, life wasn't so easy for Harphool. "In the past, the contractors would take advantage of us. Our earnings were minimal, and we had to procure raw materials and gather all the necessary items from the city. We would then transport the carpets on bicycles. Even after this toil, uncertainty loomed over the payment amount. The contractor would deduct INR 2,000-3,000, citing trivial reasons. At times, we would spend entire days waiting outside their residences for payment, only to be told at day's end that the money would be provided in instalments. Our work felt akin to bonded labour," he told OT.

However, after joining Jaipur Rugs as a weaver, Harphool's perseverance and commitment enabled him to progress from a quality supervisor to his current role as a branch manager. He now oversees operations in 42 villages, dedicating himself to training his team members to grow into managers and entrepreneurs within their own spheres.

Furthermore, through its efforts, the JRF has facilitated over 2,000 weavers in acquiring the "Artisan Card" issued by the government. This card acknowledges an artisan's societal standing, enabling them to access various benefits such as discounts on health insurance schemes. Not only this, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system was implemented to decentralise operations and enhance efficiency. One significant initiative involves delivering raw materials to the weavers at their homes and collecting the finished woven rugs, freeing them to focus solely on their weaving work.

A Unique Tourism Initiative

A group of women posing in front of their handloom
A group of women posing in front of their handloomKartikeya Shankar

Once JRF had made some progress in empowering the weavers, they embarked on showcasing their progress to the world through a distinctive tourism initiative akin to rural tourism.

JRF presents a remarkable chance to immerse oneself in the vibrant heritage of its model villages—Aspura and Manpura. These villages epitomise sustainable livelihoods, rural development, and women's empowerment at their core. The tour spans approximately 6 hours, is conducted in Hindi and English and encompasses various activities. Participants can engage in storytelling sessions, interact with artisans, partake in a leather shoe-making session, relish a traditional Rajasthani lunch, and other enriching experiences.


As I concluded my visit to Aspura, I asked all the women weavers: "How has life transformed in these recent years?"

Their collective response resonated with a unified voice: "Pehle hum majdoor the. Ab hum kalakar hai (Earlier we were labourers. Now, we are artists)." This shared sentiment encapsulated the shift in their lives, marking a transition from mere labour to becoming artisans, portraying a narrative of empowerment and evolution.

To book a village tour with JRF, click here.

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