Ruma Devi: A Beautiful Thistle of the Thar Desert

A girl with a dream in her eyes and a needle in her hand

By Arvind Singh  

Why the thistle analogy? Because, the definition of beauty in a desert is decided by grittiness and survival skills, and those who survive generally flourish with bright colors. And that is Ruma Devi, 33, a modern icon of young India from the Barmer district in Rajasthan situated in the midst of the Thar Desert on the international border with Pakistan.

Ruma Devi’s story is the stuff dreams are made of.

Coming from an orthodox and deprived background, Ruma Devi single-handedly fought for the empowerment of the rural women artisan with the help of a self-help group named Gramin Vikas Evam Chetna Sansthan (GVCS).

Today, she and her team of textile artisans are a much sought-after lot. To help out the other art forms and artisans in the area, she founded Applique Handicrafts Producer Company for giving them a medium to market and a stage to show their skills to the world.

“Other than sewing, I knew nothing. I knew I had to work and make a change in how I was living up until then, and the key to that was with me. I fell back on the one skill I had learned from my grandmother,” she says.

Ruma Devi not only led the change for the rural women artisan but also became a fashion icon by bringing traditional Indian design, motifs, and environment-friendly material of the Thar Desert to various platforms across the globe.

Ruma Devi is a symbol of women empowerment in India

This year, she was a special guest at the flag hoisting ceremony at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC on August 15 and the Consulate General of India in New York along with the Rajasthan Association of North America (RANA) organized an event on Women Empowerment with Ruma Devi on August 18.

As president of GVCS, she has brought international fashion designers to the doorstep of rural women artisans in far-flung Barmer.

Iconic fashion designers from across the globe have fallen for her traditional artworks

A role model and initiator of change, Ruma Devi has successfully generated continuous income for artisans and their families. Her business model in the field of innovation has won her critical acclaim at the national and international levels and has enabled women artisans, to reach out to new clientele.

Ruma Devi today is the face of empowerment in India and her story has inspired numerous women artisans across the country. An expert artisan herself, she has trained 22,000 artisans from 75 villages. She is also promoting hand-crafted products made by Tribal women. She also motivates women artisans to attend training and workshops conceptualized by her for better skill development.

Ruma Devi in New Jersey during her ongoing visit

She has transformed the traditional artisanship in textile and other products by focusing on designing contemporary products in furnishing and apparel. And, her hard work is getting resonated at the international level with growing demand for her designs and products in the young affluent section of society.

In the last ten years, she has come a long way through her persistence and innovation despite all odds. Ruma Devi was selected as a finalist and showcased her collection at TFI Fashion Design Awards. She won the title of ‘TFI Designer of the Year 2019’. Bibi Russell, Hemant Trivedi, Abraham & Thakore, and Rohit Kamra are a few of the top names in the Indian fashion industry, who have already collaborated with her.

Ruma Devi with Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu on August 15, 2022

She regularly participates in the Tribes Fashion Show organized in association with Tribes India. She has been honored with the title of ‘Goodwill Ambassador and Chief Designer’ of Tribes India for her efforts.

She also promoted the rich heritage of Rajasthan state in HEIM Textile Fair Germany, Singapore Craft Fair, and the prestigious London Fashion Week. Harvard University invited Ruma Devi as a speaker to the 17th annual India conference as a panel member to speak on the subject of “Women of India: Leaders, Influencers and Enablers” in February 2020.

With Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Dheeraj Srivastava, Commissioner, Rajasthan Foundation in Jaipur, India

She is a recipient of Nari Shakti Puraskar, 2019 by the union ministry of women and child development in India. She is also the State Brand Ambassador of Rajeevika Mission by the Ministry of Rural Development in the state of Rajasthan.

Image courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Twitter/ @DrRumaDevi)

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