Ruma Devi: An empowering rural fashion icon
Rising up from the rock bottom, Ruma Devi is fuelling grassroots entrepreneurship in India's women
Born near Rajasthan's Barmer district, 31-year-old handicraft artisan Ruma Devi defied all odds when she created ripples of social change with her simple handmade embroidery -- an entrepreneurial movement that has now touched over 22,000 women at the grassroots and led her to the 'Nari Shakti Puraskar', the highest civilian honour for women in India.
Coming from humble beginnings with her mother's death when she was four and marriage at 17, Ruma Devi suffered a setback when she lost her first newborn. As resilience took shape within her, she encountered a question: 'What can an uneducated, veiled woman do in a small village?'
Turns out, a lot. Inspired by her grandmother's handicraft skills -- using wool for clothes and traditional duvets for home use -- Ruma Devi started to create bags with hand embroidery on it.
"I could embroider with needle and thread, but to stitch it all together for the final product, I needed a sewing machine," she recollected in an interview.
This is when Ruma Devi collectivised women in her neighbourhood, gathered Rs 100 each and started work. An uphill task, it required her -- and the women associated with her -- to battle the high temperatures and scarce water availability characteristic of Rajasthan, that made life difficult.
"We travelled long distances to mobilise women. Men of the household had apprehensions about letting them work, but we still carried on talks," Ruma Devi, who has trained and given jobs to over 22 thousand women from 75 villages in the state. She is the President of Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan, an NGO in Barmer.
After being associated with leading Indian and international fashion designers like Anita Dongre, Bibi Russell, Abraham and Thakore, and others, she is expected to launch a brand dedicated to Rajasthan's handcrafted textiles by the end of this year.
A grassroots example of financial entrepreneurship that builds on local heritage, Ruma Devi has also been participating in Rajasthan Heritage Week and ramp shows in IGHF since 2016, and has represented Rajasthan in Germany, Singapore and London.
Having been featured on the popular TV show 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' (KBC), she has herself modelled for handcrafted apparel made by Thar women on ramp shows.
Ruma Devi was recently honoured by the IMC Ladies' Wing with their prestigious Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar.
"Ruma Devi is a change-maker in every sense of the word. She has transformed the lives of hundreds of women artisans providing them with financial, educational and health support and more importantly giving them the self-confidence they need to become successful small-scale entrepreneurs," Vanita Bhandari, President IMC Ladies Wing told us.
She added that the expert craftswoman and activist combines grace, strength, intelligence and fearlessness to bring women out of the shadows to take their rightful place as successful entrepreneurs.