Handloom weaving as a craft was traditional in this part of India, and flourished in and around the ports and trading centers, Tamluk in Midnapore being one such ancient center. When in 1972, Lalit Khanra, a medical student realized that something needed to be done about the health and standard of living of the people of his ancestral village, he involved the young men of his village to form a group called, 'Chhandrabati' which roughly translates to 'Rhythm of Life'.
Chhandrabati is an umbrella organization of livelihood support to various groups of artisans and producers including weavers, farmers and women's groups etc. One of the many projects they started was the weaving, as the skill already existed in the area and today, though, many changes have taken place at Chhandrabrati, the center still pulsates with the rhythmic sound of hand looms, providing work directly and indirectly to 50 men and women of the village. The Society has 12 weavers and 3 people at the supervisory and managerial level. Indirectly employed are also about another 30 to 35 women who may not weave, but prepare the spools, bobbins and are involved in other activities in setting up of the loom. It has a group of weavers at its village centre with about 20 looms.
About 15 weavers are presently working and most of them are highly skilled and experienced (minimum association of 3/4 years to a maximum of 30-32 years).
The weavers weave yardage for dress materials, home accessories as well as regular wear for villagers (which was the original aim that villagers shall consume what was produced by Chhandrabati weavers). Most of them are skilled and experienced. The quality of work is proven.
The group works with Sasha for most of its marketing. It also sells to the local markets of Midnapore (Tamluk mainly). There is scope for growth as handloom weaving has great potential. Exposure to the Fair Trade market and linkages to design and product development is through Sasha. Its product promotion in domestic market is through Sasha's retail outlet and exhibitions.
In the late eighties, with encouragement from Sasha, Chhandrabati started another Samity solely for women who worked with embroidery. They are skilled in Kantha embroidery, producing a range of home accessories like table mats, bedcovers, cushion covers, scarves, stoles etc. for the export markets and for sale through exhibitions. The women's group receives inputs in product and design development along with other embroidery groups of Sasha. The women deduct a part of their income as savings that is collectively saved on their behalf by the organization and serves as an emergency fund.
The Samity has also organized non-formal education program in their village, and are looking for funds. Presently, Chhandrabati is planning to upgrade its infrastructure and bring in fresh enthusiasm amongst its members to look at the future with a novel outllook.