29 Nov Balika’s story – her journey to Freedom
Balika lives in a village not far from Freeset Fabrics, having moved from the village where she grew up when she was married at the age of 13. Until recently, she had no choice in her life, which was full of struggle and pain. Her father was a farm labourer and her mother looked after the family. She had an older brother, but he died when he was 10 or 12 years old. Balika’s marriage was arranged by her family with a man who was almost twice her age and also a farmlabourer. His work was irregular and seasonal – so his income was sporadic. She had no idea what to expect as such a young bride, so she just endured it when she found he was a drinker. He did not treat her well, and often beat her. By the time she was 15, she gave birth to a son (now aged 10) and three years later her daughter was born (now aged 7). With irregular income, her husband’s preference for alcohol and lack of care for his family, Balika and the children were often hungry, mostly sharing just one meal a day. There was little if any joy in her life.
Two years ago, while he was drunk, her husband climbed a tree near their tiny house to pick coconuts. He fell and died as a result of his injuries. Balika says of that day – “There was no peace when my husband was alive, but after his death our future seemed even more desperate…” A glimmer of hope came unexpectedly a few days later, as she talked with Kundola, a friend from her village, who works with Freeset in Kolkata and some other friends who were visiting. Balika heard more about what might be possible for her, that there might be an opportunity for a fresh start just down the road, at a Freeset business which had opened there in January 2015, producing handloom scarves and fabrics. That moment was the beginning of Balika’s journey to freedom, as a place was available for her to start the following week, with a stipend during training and a fair wage above the national minimum. Making this choice could bring real hope and a better future for Balika and her children.
Balika wasn’t sure she would have what it takes to learn to weave. She thought she may be more likely to become a spinner or finisher. Even the Freesetteam were wondering if she may have difficulty, as she is is small-framed and not very tall. But once Balika had glimpsed the potential for change, something inside her clicked and she put all her energy and concentration into learning and practicing the skills she would need. She is now one of Freeset’s best weavers! She loves coming to work and as much as weaving, she loves the community and family atmosphere, enjoying cha breaks and lunch with the other women.
When asked about her hopes for the future, she didn’t hesitate for a moment: Passionate about Freeset, her biggest dream is for the company to grow, so that more women from the surrounding villages can be given an opportunity to come and work at Freeset and see their own lives as well as their families and communities flourish.
Balika sends a special message to people around the world who are friends and supporters of Freeset: “Now that I have this work with Freeset, there is a better future for me and my family. I was lonely and sad before, but life looks very different now. Thank you!”
The Freeset family in Sherpur is inspired and encouraged by Balika and her indomitable spirit. We love seeing her smile every day and how confident she is becoming. We are thankful for her, for what we learn from her and for all that she brings to our team. It also really spurs us on to know that there is a plot of land a few hundred metres from where we started weaving fabric for Freeset, which will soon be the base for a great new factory – with the potential for more jobs for 200+ women.
Thank you for taking an interest in Freeset Fabrics and for your support and encouragement. Every scarf sold, and every order placed for fabric and products will help Balika’s dream to be realised.