Conceptualised by Kavita Chaudhary, Design Director of Jaipur Rugs, Freedom Manchaha is a collaboration with the State of Rajasthan Prison Department. Limited-edition Freedom Manchaha rugs are hand-knotted by prisoners in the Jaipur, Bikaner Central, and Dausa Central jails as part of the prison department’s extensive vocational training and rehabilitation opportunities that include dhurrie weaving, cloth dyeing, and textile production using prison-based power looms.
Jaipur Rugs’ Freedom Manchaha initiative encourages prisoners to create their own rug designs based on their life and experiences. This curatorial direction taps into Jaipur Rugs’ original concept for the Manchaha initiative which encouraged female rural weavers to design ‘unfiltered’ expressive rugs based on their environment, emotions, dreams and personality. These abstract narrative designs included Manju Devi’s multi-award winning rug Aas Paas that included references to her chulha (domestic wood fired cooker) and the region’s traditional, beautiful and sustainable cow dung enriched wall and floor finishes.
Freedom Manchaha began with prison workshops led by Jaipur Rugs. Some one hundred inmates chose to continue and were given intensive training in weaving and hand-knotting. Jaipur Rugs provided looms and surplus and leftover wool and bamboo silk yarns from Jaipur productions. The randomness of yarn amounts and colours account for the exuberant and unique palettes of each prison rug.
Similar to the rural women weavers in phase one, male prisoners express their lives through the design language of their rug patterns. Each rug takes between three and six months to weave. Some rugs feature floral or geometric patterns while others express rural life such as a woman churning milk or hut-like houses under a bed of stars or a wide field lined by electrical towers and trees.
Prisoners are paid for their work and Jaipur Rugs helps them open bank accounts so their families can access their earnings. Rakesh Mohan, Superintendent, Jaipur Central Jail, adds that ‘25% of earned income goes to the victim’s families’. Prison weavers eventually become waged members of the Jaipur Rugs Artisan Network.
Described by Jaipur Rugs as an initiative that has successfully ‘bended [prison] bars’, this metaphor captures the empowerment possibilities of the arts while simultaneously creating post-prison employment opportunities. ‘Let goodness, fairness and, most importantly, love prevail in business,’ says N K Chaudhary, Founder, Jaipur Rugs, ‘and profits will inevitably follow.’