Monday, 6 December 2010

Durag Niwas & the Sambhali Trust

Soon after making our spur of the Monday decision to go to Jodphur that weekend, I emailed a childhood friend who married into a Jodhpur family (but lives mostly in Mumbai) for suggestions on where to stay. She came back with Raas (way not an option unless you're an heiress) and the family-run guesthouse Durag Niwas.

Durag Niwas is run by Govind Singh Rathore and his family, and is clean, cheap, has a lovely courtyard and friendly staff. It appears like a thousand other guesthouses throughout Rajasthan: clean, basic, with some kind of local flourish like a carved wooden chest or filmy fuchsia curtains, but has one clear point of difference: it's also home to the family's NGO, the Sambhali Trust.

Govind established Sambhali, as he shyly told it, when his mother and grandmother begged him to do something to help the beleaguered women of Rajasthan, in the wake of family difficulties that had left them with no idea what to do. Rajasthan is an extremely tradition-bound, feudal and patriarchal society, and Govind felt that by giving girls and women access to education, personal development and livelihoods, he could help improve their lot.

So Sambhali, which has been around for about four years now, looks after literacy and livelihood projects in Jodhpur and the outlying village of Setrawa, in the Thar desert. The women learn basic skills like to block-printing techniques, embroidery, English. Information on building confidence and anti-domestic violence and women's rights laws is also supplied through the centres.

It has been hard though, he told me, to convince the men of the family to allow their wives, sisters, daughters, to attend the classes: they sometimes have a vested interest in keeping their women downtrodden and ignorant.

Sambhali products can be available here. My friend is also in the process of setting up an online accessories store stocking products made by Sambhali, called Forty Red Bangles.

Durag Niwas also runs excellent safaris out to the desert. Our Bishnoi village trip that ended up in an outdoor opium den may or may not have been with them, and the guy in the photo drinking the opium water may or may not have been Govind's cousin Bunty.


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