Its been fun knowing Madhu Jain for over two decades, then as a lanky fellow collegiate at the Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi who you could always count on to ruffle up the calm demeanour of the normally unflappable nuns who ran JMC with their high standards of acceptable behaviour and their super sense of humour. And now it an honour to know the same Madhu Jain as a much acclaimed Crafts Revivalist and Textile Conservationist who has been Awarded Nari Shakti Puraskar 2017 by President Kovind at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, she received the award along with 30 eminent and outstanding individuals and nine path-breaking organisations who have contributed to women’s empowerment, and who are role models, torch bearers, and catalysts for change for the younger generation.
Madhu’s wide smile tapped into her years of work embedded in a strong economic purpose. Tapping rural weaver communities through NGOs and Self-Help Groups, her work in eco-fashion and sustainable production is revitalising artisanal livelihoods across India by ensuring markets for weavers’ generationally-honed skills. She has also been instrumental in innovating new weaves and in reviving textiles and embroidery—notably, Nakshikantha and Dhaka Muslin—that were lost to India post partition.
Over the last 15 years, Jain’s experiments with alternative fibres led her to bamboo. With India being the second-largest bamboo producing country in the world, she realised that the country is well positioned to grab global ascendency in bamboo-yarn production and in changing the lives of bamboo farmers. In 2003, at the 7th Bamboo Congress in Delhi, Jain was instrumental in formally introducing this eco-friendly fibre to India. More recently, in 2017, she unveiled her path-breaking Bamboo-Silk Ikat textile, the first textile of its kind in the world, which ably demonstrates how the fashion industry can strive towards sustainability. Bamboo textile, other than being biodegradable, leaves a negligible ecological footprint when compared to factory-produced cloth, is UV protective, and has anti-bacterial properties. This extraordinary textile has the potential to change the face of the way we understand the evolution of textiles.
As my friend Madhu puts it, “This award is much more than a personal validation of my work in the indigenous, organic textiles sector and my environmental concerns in producing textiles that leave the smallest carbon footprint. It is a formal ratification of the invaluable skills of India’s master weavers and craftspeople whose artistry has been handed down to them generationally. I will continue to strive to revive ancient weaving techniques and to ensure livelihoods for India’s artisanal sector.”
So hey, Madhu, here’s looking at you, girl ….may you continue to do the beautiful, meaningful work that is now your hallmark!