It was the Union government's Digital India initiative that inspired Sunita Budhiraja to take the social media path to connect with women who wear saris. What was bothering Sunita and her friends was that the younger generation was moving away from the traditional unstitched attire—the sari. "I felt that if we created a demand, it would have a positive impact on the lives of weavers. In fact because of the decrease in demand, our weavers, too, have gone on to choose better paying avenues and moved to cities," she says, dismayed by the extinction of several sari weaves.
Sunita has authored several books, including the recently launched Saat Suron ke Beech, a musicology based on several years of informal interactions with seven doyens of Indian classical music—Ustad Bismillah Khan, Pt Kishan Maharaj, Pt Jasraj, M. Balamuralikrishna, Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pt Birju Maharaj and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. She is also a communication professional.
Sunita, obviously, loves her saris and says she draped her first one—a handloom sari—in 1970. "My mother and my grandmother wore only handlooms since my grandfather had looms in Lahore before moving to India during partition. My mother wore saris when she was in Delhi or Tokyo University teaching Hindi to Japanese students," says Sunita.
"I started a Facebook campaign called Six Yards and 365 Days last year in August with just four members, including me: Vijaylakshmi Chhabra, former director general of Doordarshan, artist Alka Raghuvanshi, and entrepreneur and sari lover Sanjeev Manglani, who has been working with weavers for almost four decades. The name was so chosen because I wanted women to drape the six yards of the sari every day of the year. Other members include Sonal Mansingh, Shovana Narayan, Sharon Lowen, Alaknanda Kathak, Nilima Kamrah, among many others," she says.
The group now has more than 6,700 members and, apparently, the number is increasing. The women proudly drape handwoven saris, have their photographs clicked almost every day and post it on the Facebook group. There are members who have posted their 50th, 100th and 200th saris. On September 3, Sunita posted her 300th handloom sari on Facebook. There were saris that were bought for Rs 45 and were 40-50 years old.
The members are from different walks of life and include high-profile artistes and artists, authors, theatre persons, educationists, entrepreneurs, doctors, NGO workers, communication professionals, housewives and weavers, who belong to underpaid, middle and low income groups. They come from every nook and cranny of India, and some members are from USA, Canada, UK, Middle East, Far East and parts of Asia, including Pakistan.
Sunita believes that many women have regained their self-esteem and are feeling empowered because of the campaign. "When I started this campaign, I was not aware that it could actually touch the souls of the women who are participating. The idea then was to support the weavers, but it has gone beyond that objective. It has created a community of women, who join hands to support each other emotionally.”
Sunita says that it would probably be the only Facebook campaign that has not become just an album of pretty women in their inexpensive or expensive saris. The group has worked with a thought to save the sari from becoming extinct and support the weaving community. In the past one year of its existence, members have posted more than 100 varieties of handwoven saris, including rare ones. It has also become a knowledge-sharing group in which they write about each and every sari, its intricacies, weave, and the story behind it, as they believe that every sari has a story to tell.
The group will hold a celebratory evening on December 11 at Delhi, where a weaver will be invited to talk about the challenges in weaving a sari and how the new generation is moving on to other occupations. Going forward, the group also intends to tie up with weavers to support them. They are already supporting some weavers in Chanderi, Maheshwari in Madhya Pradesh and Maniabandha in Odisha.