Abha Dalmia of the Dalmia Group speaks to Guardian 20 about her career and her work to promote India’s weavers.
Q. Tell us about your journey from starting FICCI Ladies Wing in 1983 to being one of the most revered traditional revivalist Indian designers.
A. As far as I am concerned, I have always believed in the power of women and their importance in the overall progress of mankind. For this reason, on the request of Ashok Jain, then President of FICCI, I along with Indu Jain (Chairman of Times of India) started the Ladies Wing of FICCI called FLO in 1983. We started with a membership of 150 and now it is a pan-India body with 7,000 members. FLO is a catalyst organisation addressing all issues related to women. I am still mentoring FLO in a serious manner.
Q. You shifted to Delhi from Orissa and started working with the Dalmia Group at a young age. How was your experience of working for the conglomerate?
A. Upon shifting from Orissa (from our cement plant) in 1970, I became a part and parcel of the Dalmia Group. I worked for their export sector, ran a travel agency and was involved in their philanthropic work.
Q. You have been the chairperson of Samagam Cultural Society’s programme committee since its inception. What is unique about this club?
A. I am deeply involved with Samagam, which was formed in 2001. It is a cultural body in Delhi which wants to propagate the values related to all sorts of performing arts. We hold programmes every month and also work to promote and award new artists.
Q. From being involved with the Dalmia Charitable Trust to starting your organisation for weavers of India. How did it all unfold?
A. In order to satisfy my inner urge, I always wanted to do some constructive work for the not so fortunate in life. We started Little Bee Society for Adivasi Welfare in Orissa, Kolkata and Mumbai, hand holding the Adivasi women to teach them fine embroidery and market their product. In the last 35 years, I have been passionately involved with the plight of weavers of Benaras. I have worked to teach, train and motivate them in coming up with the finest weaves and hold exhibitions for them all over the world. This is most satisfying to me.
Q. You were born into and later married into very prestigious Marwari families of India, yet you created your own identity in a brilliant manner. Any words of wisdom for women?
A. I only can say that women must believe in themselves. They should just go for it. Keep doing your karma and leave the rest to the almighty. You reap what you sow.