Entrepreneur and social activist Uma Prajapati is on a mission to promote sustainable living and protect the environment through fabrics.
For a woman, who had to once play hard to convince her parents from Gaya, Bihar that her arena was larger than within the four-walls they gave her, Prajapati’s mission is now to protect the environment and promote sustainable living for those dependent on it.
Her fashion garments only use khadi, organic cotton and handloom. She has used her design skills to come up with a compact foldable shopping bag as an environment-friendly solution for plastic carry bags. She has also started projects like Paruthi, working with farmers in Tamil Nadu to grow organic cotton and Varanasi weavers.
For Prajapati, born and brought up in small town in Bihar, the Auroville connection happened after she attended an exhibition in Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. “Auroville had a stall at the exhibition. The place interested me and I wrote to them expressing my wish to make a visit. I got a positive response,” Prajapati said.
“I realised that Auroville was the place for me where I could be a designer and also a spiritual seeker. It was a radical place for me and I settled down here in 1997,” she said. Prajapati upon arrival in Auroville joined a small garment unit. Very soon with a small sum of Rs 2,000 she turned entrepreneur floating Upasana, which broke even in six months’ time.
Recalling her first social project — Tsunamika — Prajapati said life was chugging along well with her garment business that started in 1997. Soon, she was shipping out about 40 per cent of the production. Then a tsunami wave hit the southern coast in 2004 turning lives upside down. Upasana turned from pure garment business outfit to a socially-conscious venture.
“When I visited the tsunami affected fishing villages in Puducherry, I saw the women staring emptily and silent. It suddenly struck me to ask them whether they would like to make dolls. My idea was to make them to focus on something else and ignite the fire of hope in their minds.” When the fisherwomen agreed, Prajapati brought loads of garment waste from Upasana and taught them how to make tiny dolls — these were named ‘Tsunamika’.
She took the doll idea to several fishing villages in Puducherry and soon had thousands of dolls on hand giving rise to the concept of a ‘gift economy’. The Tsunamika dolls are not sold but given as gifts. The recipient of the gift or others can make donation as per their capacity, which were used for making more dolls and payments made to the fisherwomen.
Over a period of 15 years, about six million Tsunamika dolls were made and sent to over 80 countries. The Tsunamika project has been given the ‘Award of Excellence’ by the Government of India and a special recognition by UNESCO.
“The concept is to upcycle waste to hope. From a symbol of hope, Tsunamika has now transformed to be the voice of the ocean, voice of the coastline spreading the message that oceans are not dumping places for untreated sewage water and other garbage,” she remarked.