Fellows Overcoming Adversity: The Panchachuli Flood

Kamalnayan Bajaj Fellow Mukti Datta is the Managing Director of Panchachuli Women Weavers in Almora, Uttarakhand, located in northern India. She started Panchachuli to change the fundamental economics behind traditional societies where women were not educated or respected as equals. Women who joined transitioned from unpaid work like firewood gathering to producing high-end handicrafts. With an income and a valuable skill, Panchachuli has empowered women not only by improving their finances, but by giving them local influence and leadership. Not only does this mean a greater voice for adult women, it also means that girls are starting to receive an equal education to boys, since they are now seen as future earners.

Unfortunately, Mukti's organization now faces a difficult situation after a flash flood tore through the Panchachuli facility. She has taken the time to answer questions about the disaster, the future of her company, and how friends and Fellows can show their support. To learn how you can help Mukti and support the Panchachuli facility's recovery, see her call to action the end of this post.

The women of Panchachuli

How important is Panchachuli to the women who work there?

Panchachuli is the lifeline of the hundreds of women who are working there. It not only gives them a sustainable livelihood and regular income. It gives them social empowerment, respect within the family, the power to make decisions for their children, and the solidarity of being part of one large family of artisans. Panchachuli also gives the women pride in their craftsmanship and self-confidence.
Scenes from Panchachuli

When did the disaster take place?

On the afternoon of May 18th, a cloudburst and extremely heavy rains damaged property while causing the storm drains and sewer lines of the area to overflow. Floodwaters mixed with sewerage and debris before rushing into the Panchachuli facility.

How long was that facility running? What did it make there?

The facility affected by the flood was running for 20 years. The women who work there make handspun and handwoven shawls, stoles, scarves, fabrics, blankets, and throws in cashmere, lambswool, sheep wool, and plant fibers locally available (like Himalayan nettle).
Sewerage, garbage, and debris in the Panchachuli facility after the flood

What are the necessary steps to rebuild Panchachuli's infrastructure?

The main loss was of raw materials and spun yarns in expensive cashmere, so what is really required are pre-orders so that we can replenish ruined stocks. Donations are also welcome with the rider that for every donation we will send out beautiful cashmere and/or lambswool products that the donor can use as gifts, and the value of the products will match the amount donated.

What is the economic impact of the disaster on your business? What about the impact on the women who work there?

Panchachuli lost about $30,000 worth of precious materials, which were damaged irreparably by the floods and muck, or simply swept away. The materials were for an order from a long standing client in Munich and we need to replenish cashmere stocks, spin and dye and weave the shawls for her order all over again. The facility had to be closed for cleaning and repairs, which meant that the women lost several working days.

One of Panchachuli's many products

How are you/the women weavers finding strength in dealing with this adversity?

We are all working together and trying to make the best of a bad situation. Fortunately there was no injury or loss of life, so we all got together and cleaned up the mess and reopened as soon as possible. The women are working on orders given by Fellows and friends of the Kamalnayan Bajaj Fellowship as well. The support from the AGLN staff and the opportunity to have a booth at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum gives us a lot of hope, for which we are thankful. 

How can other AGLN Fellows show their support?

AGLN Fellows can support Panchachuli by pre-ordering our products, which will help us raise money to buy expensive cashmere and other materials to replenish those that were damaged or lost.

Panchachuli craftsmanship

What does the future look like for Panchachuli?

The future of Panchachuli looks good, and facing adversity has made us all the more determined to achieve more recognition for our handcrafted products and the story of Panchachuli. We aim to expand our markets, so that we can take on new batches of trainees every year, providing opportunity for employment to many more underprivileged women in our region.

Mukti's McNulty Laureate video
To support Panchachuli's recovery from the flash flood, you can contact Mukti by e-mail to order from their catalogue of products. Pre-orders can be made via bank transfer and will be delivered within 60 days by courier.
Posted by Matthew Filbert on Jun 8, 2017 10:28 AM America/Denver