Designer Abdul Halder on Mission Sanitation

The fashion world is replete with token gestures for social causes. But sometimes, one comes along that actually seems genuine. Fashion designer Abdul Halder is to stage the first-ever fashion show Mission Sanitation — Fashion Fiesta — at the General Hall, United Nations, New York. But this fashion show is different because it is for the “uplift of scavenger women” in India. It is not about gathering funds. The real story happened and continues to unravel behind the curtain.

Abdul Halder explains that the project arose from the efforts of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation. Working to promote human rights this social service outfit has helped make many villages and towns “scavenger free”. They have helped liberate “scavengers” through the construction of Sulabh Shauchalayas and have facilitated the training and rehabilitation of liberated “scavengers”. Working with Sulabh International, Halder has trained women “scavengers” from Sulabh Nai Disha Centre, Alwar in stitching, dying, etc.

Embassy show

He recounts that they recently organised a show of their work at the Bulgarian embassy. The Prince of Netherlands Willem-Alexander was so impressed that he felt it needed greater exposure. The Prince pitched the idea to the United Nations. The show fit ideally with the UN, as it marks the Year of Sanitation, this year. Sixty rehabilitated women will travel to New York for the July 2 show and 20 of them will walk the ramp along with leading Indian models.

Halder found that stitching came naturally to the women, since they were familiar with it in their own lives. After a year’s training at his factory they could effortlessly make the designer clothes. Did they face discrimination at his factory? “Nobody at the factory had a problem. They didn’t even know where they were coming from. Why should they have known? We groomed and looked after them completely.”

Initially, their husbands used to create problems, he says. But while they earned Rs.300 picking up human waste, the NGO gave them Rs.2000 a month, as incentive to stay. Today, Haldar says, they earn up to Rs.5000 a month. This process ensures the women are rehabilitated financially, professionally but more importantly socially. The social ostracism is the biggest burden they face. Their work is the most demeaning form of human exploitation. And this is one small step to help them live with dignity. The collection of over a 100 outfits promises to be “global”, with “ethnic Indian wear”. Prior to their departure, Mission Sanitation — Fashion Fiesta — will also be held in New Delhi.

NANDINI NAIR

More In: METRO PLUS | FEATURES