EDITIONS
Social Innovation

Captain Indraani Singh, Asia’s first woman pilot to fly an Airbus 320, is providing jobs to over 300 underprivileged women

R Saritha
18th Mar 2017
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Indhacrafts a social initiative started by Captain Indraani is helping women educate, empower and employ their skills for a brighter future.

“Indha” means the broad base used for balancing several pots placed on top of one another, and woman carrying them on their heads is a common scenario in rural India. This balancing act is intertwined with their lives as women balance multiple roles. With this philosophy, was born Indhacrafts, an initiative to help underprivileged women take control and balance their life gracefully.

With three Es (Educate, Empower and Employment) as the key components in 1996 Captain Indraani Singh (Founder and Managing Trustee) started Literacy India, and Indhacrafts is one of the social initiatives under Literacy India.

Indha was started with a group of 10 artisans in 2005. Under this initiative, women are trained to master various craft-related skills. The products made by them are sold to help them earn a living. The focus of Indhacraft is on corporate gifting. The organisation has become a canvas for hundreds of women’s dreams, and caters to varied clients like Microsoft, Kuoni, General Electrics, Tupperware, World Bank etc.

A decade of existence

It also has a wastepaper recycling unit that manufactures paper used for making greeting cards and other stationery-related paper products. Artisan centres are located in the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Rajasthan. Today, Indha has completed over a decade of existence. It has increased the number of centres across India, and employs about 320 artisans, making them self-reliant and empowered.

Flying high


Capt Indraani Singh aged 52 is the first-ever woman in Asia to fly the Airbus 320 and world’s first woman commander on the wide-bodied AIRBUS -300. For her services towards the society, she has been honoured with International Congress for Women’s Godfrey Philip special award for bravery in social cause, and Women Achievers Award in 2009.“There is a point in our lives where we want to do something that makes a difference to the world. Choosing that difference among multiple options is always based on that difference, implicit or explicit. When it’s time to pay back the country there is a time to involve others and a time to simply take control. The choice to be made – to be a jawan or a soldier, to defend the country’s borders or focus on a number of pertinent issues the country’s been facing and needed support: population, poverty, hunger, health and illiteracy. We know what the choice has been,” she says.

In November 1996, Capt. Indraani established Literacy India, a not-for-profit organisation to empower women and children, operating out of a construction site in Palam Vihar, Gurgaon, with just five children. Indraani’s organisation has been so successful that it has expanded to West Bengal, Jharkhand, UP, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Haryana and the Delhi metropolitan area. Over two decades of existence has touched the lives of scores of women, lifting them out of poverty and giving them a reason to smile.

A movement of empowerment

Indraani enjoys seeing Indian women enjoying a greater economic opportunity, but she’s after the even greater change than that. “Women in many villages of India are not respected and are even treated as doormats, which we believe leads to a severe identity crisis,” she says.

Her organisation, therefore, also runs workshops specifically designed to empower women, inviting women role models in to talk about their lives and bringing the organisation’s members to various companies to expose them to life outside home.


Sudha is a differently-abled woman hailing from Gujarat. A mother of two, she was deserted by her family due to her disability. She shifted from Gujarat to Noida for work with her children. While she reached Noida she realised that there were no possibilities of getting a job for a person with a disability. During that period, she had to start begging to feed both her children. She finally got a job as daily wage labourer. Sudha found out about Literacy India through one of the volunteers. She joined the vocational training programme and received intensive training in embroidery and stitching from Literacy India. Soon, she could earn a living out of her skill and sends her children to school. Today, she has the courage to turn her dreams into reality.

Sustainability sets them apart

Indha has a sustainable business model because the artisans are trained by experts from National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and Indian Institute of Fashion Technology (IIFT). It does not follow the retail format where it has showrooms in malls or markets, but has its own exclusive outlets from where it sells products. It also relies heavily on Internet marketing for its products through Flipkart, Amazon etc.

Fair Trade Forum has chosen Indha as their lead brand. The artisans at Indha have been supported in marketing, designing, quality finishing and developing new skills. Indha shop has become a part European Union document as a fair trade brand. Also, it has entered into a partnership with Shopclues.com and Craftsvilla.com.

Indha has close to 30 centres pan India and has about 20 trainers and mentors who guide and train the artisans and also the management team. The strengths of the IndhaCraft lie in its direct link with the artisans, while providing competitive pricing to them.

The trained artisans take over varied materials and contemporary designs that have international appeal. The capital investment is low, and hence the model can be replicated at various centres set up around the identified clusters of these traditional art forms and their origin.

For those who appreciate traditional skills, genuine handmade products, Indha offers hundreds of exclusive, unique designs, , and which generate a living for skilled, but marginalised women, helping them dare to dream once again. They are also crowdfunding to support their initiative.

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