Women in Varanasi set to enter the world of toy making traditionally occupied by the menfolk

A skill upgradation training programme initiated by the Central government in prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, is preparing 200 women to enter the business of wooden toy making.

Anand Kumar
| Updated: March 19th, 2021

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 

In the streets of prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, the women are busier than ever. After they are done with their household chores, they are now doing what traditionally was a job their menfolk engaged in — wooden toy making.  

In a skill upgradation training programme initiated by the Union ministry of textiles, women residents of Kashmiri Ganj in Varanasi, about 320 kilometres (km) from the state capital Lucknow, are learning to make tops, dolls, sindoor daani and other small toys. These women, who are training to be wood artisans, are also being paid a daily allowance of Rs 300. 

“As a housewife, I was only involved in household work. But, when I heard about the training scheme, I signed up for it,” Abhilasha Devi, one of the trainees, told Gaon Connection. “I have learnt woodcraft now and I hope to get work orders soon so that I can earn something and support my family,” the 33-year-old added. Abhilasha has learnt how to use the special tools required for toy making and has become adept at crafting wooden tops and other toys. She only wished the duration of the skill upgradation course (two months) could be longer giving her the opportunity to learn more.

Abhilasha Devi. Photo: Anand Kumar

Kashmiri Ganj, where Abhilasha Devi lives is a major hub for the manufacture of colourful wooden toys, popular all over the country. Although the craft is traditionally practised by men, with the women only involved in painting them. things will soon change as the 200 women trainees of the programme are set to enter the toy making business.   

“The women trainees are taught to cut the wood, use the tools and shape and paint the wooden toys,” Narendra Singh, a trainer at the workshop, informed Gaon Connection. “But the duration of the workshop could be longer,” Singh said as well. “Two months is inadequate for teaching the craft which takes at least six months to learn,” he said. 

“After making toys, we are currently learning to paint them. At first, I didn’t even know how to hold a brush,” Babita Singh, another trainee told Gaon Connection. She was now doing very well with the paint brush, she added. Babita attends the workshop at 2 pm every day.

Babita Singh. Photo: Anand Kumar

“When the traders order toys next, these women will be given the task of preparing them,” said Narendra Singh. “Like male artisans, they too will be paid full remuneration,” he added.

Also Read: Story of wooden toy makers Varanasi India

Women becoming self-reliant

Besides painting the toys, these women trainees have also learnt to operate various machines like the male artisans. 

“Though I have frequently watched wooden toys being made, I never learned to make them,” said Archana Devi, who spends four hours every day learning the craft. “Now I await orders so that I may earn a living, making the toys, sitting at home,” the 36-year-old said. She hoped that the skill upgradation programme initiated by the Central government, would bring about a change in the lives of the women. 

Modi has repeatedly voiced his support for the local toy making craft in Varanasi. The wooden toys of Varanasi were also included in the first ever Virtual Toy Fair 2021, organised by the Central government from February 27 to March 2. The theme logo of Toy Fair 2021 was a top, that is a very popular toy in Varanasi.  

“India should focus on making good quality toys as well as those with some educational value. We enjoy a lower cost of labour, have more ideas, so we will work on our toys and sell them in a major way to the world,” Piyush Goyal, Union commerce and industry minister said, when the fair was inaugurated. He stated that it was important for the younger generation to understand how toys contributed to the overall development of a person. He also talked about how toys could bring alive the lore and legends of the past for children.

Also Read: The Toymakers of Varanasi: Crushed by COVID-19 and Chinese imports

In his Mann Ki Baat radio programme on August 30 last year, Modi had appealed to the people to make indigenous toys and promote them. He had said that would make India self reliant. He made special mention of the toy industry in Varanasi. 

Modi has repeatedly voiced his support for the local toy making craft in Varanasi. Photo: Anand Kumar

According to a International Market Analysis Research and Consulting Report, 85 per cent of India’s toy market depends on China, while 15 per cent of the toys are sourced from Malaysia, Germany, Hong Kong and the United States. While China exports a staggering Rs 1,472 billion worth of toys to India, in comparison, India is able to export toys only to the tune of up to Rs 20 billion. 

However, the Indian toy industry is showing improvement with the intervention of the Central government. As per news reports, the demand for toys across the world is growing at the rate of five per cent per annum, while in India it is 10 to 15 per cent per annum. Therefore, it is being estimated that the toy industry in India will be worth Rs 147-221 billion by the year 2024.

Also Read: Doll story: Ranchi resident Shobha Kumari creates indigenous dolls steeped in Jharkhand’s culture and helps tribal women earn a living

Read the story in Hindi here.