This article highlights the role of women embroiderers in addressing rural poverty in the desert district of Kachchh in the state of Gujarat, western India. It features the work of Kachchh Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS) or Kachchh Women's Development Association. KMVS, a non-governmental organization established in 1989, works in several areas of development, including health, education, the environment, water management, legal and panchayat
(local or village council) matters, and the crafts.
KMVS has established an international reputation for its exquisite hand embroidered goods These draw upon Kachchh traditions of dowry embroidery, re-interpreting distinctive local styles in contemporary pieces Branded under the name 'Qasab', which means 'craft skills' in Kachchh, KMVS embroideries are now found across the globe. As their reputation has grown, two overseas exhibitions have added the status of 'museum quality' to their retail appeal.
Apart from the economic impulse behind KMVS's work, members of the association believe it plays an important role in preserving the embroidery traditions of the multifarious communities in Kachchh. The challenge confronting the women is to. maintain those traditions without 'freezing' or ossifying them. Since its inception, the embroiderers and administrative staff at KMVS have developed strategies to cope with combining commercial considerations with a sense of guardianship of local heritage and the artistic needs of the artisans. The experiences of two women in tackling this demanding work are recounted below.