Rajasthan: Married off at 17, Ruma Devi is now guardian angel for over 20,000 women

Barmer (Rajasthan): Social evils are shunned in this day and age, yet a lot of practices such as child marriage and female foeticide are prevalent in certain pockets of the country, including Rajasthan.

Women here are married off early in life, and often not educated or encouraged enough to pursue financial independence. However, 30-year-old Ruma Devi has taken it in her stride to stand on her own feet and also help other women do the same.

Life for Ruma wasn’t easy. Having lost her mother at an early age, she was married off at the age of 17 into a financially unstable family. Being a school dropout, the only skill she had acquired was embroidery.

“When I was 8 years old, my mother died. I learnt embroidery from my grandmother and later in my life, it became a source of income. After marriage my financial status was very weak, however, I spoke to other women and we constituted a small group,” Ruma told ANI.

“We collected funds of about Rs 100 from each member and bought a sewing machine. Initially, we started off with small items like bags,” she added while acknowledging that the patriarchal mindset in the region did become an obstacle in her efforts to empower women.

A Nari Shakti awardee, Ruma now provides training to around 22,000 local women in appliqué embroidery, patchwork, and mirror work. She runs an NGO called Gramin Vikas Chetna Sansthan (GVCS) that provides logistic support to artisans.

Women in the region traditionally learn embroidery, but the group’s focus has mostly been on making bedsheets using motifs as patchwork. The NGO also provides facilities to artisans like solar lamps and sewing machines, among others.

The work done by Ruma has even gained international recognition, with fashion designers like Hemant Trivedi and Rohit Kumar taking her work to ramps globally.

“When I see an artisan (from her group) walking along with models in a fashion show, I feel delighted,” she said.

The 30-year-old aims to establish a college for embroidery where the training of staff, as well as marketing and production of the items, can be done under one roof.