Lehro Devi’s diminutive frame belies the challenges and hardships she has had to shoulder. Belonging to a conservative family from Barmer, Rajasthan, she was expected to produce a male heir. However, after having three daughters, her husband decided to marry again as polygyny is common in her community. Soon, two sons were born to the second wife in quick succession.
Lehro Devi says the early days of this new life were a challenge, but one that she decided she would not forsake. Today, the 53-year-old says she lives in harmony with her husband, his second wife, and all five children. “I live a life of renunciation, and I have made my peace with that,” she says.
However, making ends meet was a challenge, and Lehro Devi decided she would try to make a living. She heard that Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan (GVCS) — a grassroots NGO working in Barmer — was conducting training in the area.
“I was always interested in craftwork, and they were teaching us traditional handicrafts. I signed up, and my daughters also joined the training session with me,” she says, describing the beginning of her now decade-long association with GVCS.
The early days were particularly challenging. “We had to travel long distances to collect the raw material and to deliver the final products. But the support we got from GVCS with selling our products soon improved our lives. This inspired other women in my community to apply for the training that I give,” she says.
Lehro Devi then decided she would like to take a more active role in helping other women like herself. “GVCS also holds skill development training, where artisans can get promoted to being master trainers from being an artisan,” she says, explaining that she has already trained thousands of women in traditional crafts. She draws inspiration from Ruma Devi — the President of GVCS and a master craftsperson — and has trained over 22,000 artisans from 75 villages in the Thar region of Rajasthan.
Today, Lehro Devi herself is an indispensable part of the NGO and has dedicated her life to training other women and promoting the arts and crafts of Rajasthan.
“I have travelled all over the country from Delhi to Goa, participating in various exhibitions and workshops. I have also participated in fashion shows that showcased my handiwork and that were done by other artisans at GVCS,” she says. The exhibitions she has participated in include the famous Dastakar, Kala Ghoda Festival, and Aadi Mahotsav for several years consecutively.
Today, Lehro Devi heads the GVCS Crafts Centre at Jaipur. “I have dedicated 10 years of my life to my craft and to being able to provide for my family,” she says, before adding that her journey so far has also been one of rediscovery and self-confidence. Her greatest achievement, she feels, is that she has also been able to guide thousands of women towards rediscovering themselves and becoming self-sufficient.