Of women, for women and by women— that’s what the Maitri Rakhee Bazaar is all about.
Rakhee Bazaar, an annual one-day event which started about two decades ago, has today grown into a full fledged business entity with women at every level, be it craftsperson, organiser, consumer or even beneficiaries of the charity that come through the proceeds of the Bazaar.
“When we started it around 18 years ago, the concept of Bazaar or an exhibition was just catching up in the city. So was the availability of Rakhees; there was hardly any to be seen in Chennai. For the North Indian women here, sending one to their brothers or sisters-in-law before Rakshabhandan would be a challenge as there was hardly any shop that sold them. It was then that we thought we could take the lead by getting Rakhees from women craftsmen and selling them it at the bazaar. The proceeds could then go to some charity work involving women,” says Anupama Khemka, one of the founding members of Bazaar and Maitri.
Today, around 5000-8000 rakhees are sold at the Bazaar apart from jewellery, designer wears, household items, ethnic sarees and others, all by women entrepreneurs. “There are around 30 stalls put up and many of the entrepreneurs today are from various parts of the country. The only criterion for having a stall is that it should have something to do with women,” she said.
With the expansion of the bazaar, there been an expansion on the supply side as well. “When we first went to Kolkata, we got the Rakhees from part-time women craftsmen, many of whom did it on a small scale at their homes. Today, like us, they too have grown. These women have now expanded their business to other States. It is now a round-the-year business for them.” says Harshini Bagry, treasurer of the committee that runs the bazaar.
For the women of Maitri too, the bazaar is now hardly about a few days of work on planning and execution.
“When we hand over the proceeds for some developmental work, it has to be ensured that they reach the right person. When it comes to supporting orphanages and other charity, we ourselves send it every month, since giving the money in a one-time instalment might just not serve the purpose.”, says Harshini.
But the journey has been extremely rewarding, say the women. “There were times when young girls had written to us thanking us for the help. It has been extremely rewarding.”
Over the years, the proceeds of the bazaar have helped in setting up creches for children or shelters for poor women; for paying salaries to school teachers, building classrooms, libraries, computer labs and so on.
Even on the personal front, the women of the bazaar, feel that the event has been a huge learning experience. “If it wasn’t for the bazaar, we would have never been what we are today. When we began the event, we hardly knew how to operate a computer. Today, we have to manage every single detail. It has taught us a lot,” says Anupama.