Hindu women of the deeply conservative villages around Janakpur are rarely spared from their household duties, and, once married, are expected to remain veiled and silent before all males but their husbands. Fortunately, their rich tradition of folk art offers them an escape. Set in a walled compound, the nonprofit Janakpur Women’s Development Center (Nari Bikas Kendra) provides a space for women from nearby villages to develop. Founded in 1989, with assistance from several international NGOs, the artists’ cooperative helps its fifty-odd members turn their skills into income – and the fact that some have gone on to start their own companies is a sure sign of the project’s success. But more importantly, the centre empowers women through training in literacy and business skills, and support sessions in which they can share their feelings and discuss their roles in family and society.
Initially specializing in Maithili paper art, the centre now has separate buildings for sewing, screen-printing, ceramics and painting. Visitors are welcome to meet the artists and learn about their work and traditions. A gift shop sells crafts made on the premises, as well as the booklet, Master Artists of Janakpur.