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Nixing hooch for weaving, these Assamese women turn a new leaf

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GuwahatiFrom brewing and selling country liquor to weaving exquisite fabrics and also finding a market in neighbouring Bhutan, the women of Chatra, a remote village in Assam’s Nalbari district, have not just elevated themselves to a respectable profession but have changed the image of their village for the better.

Chatra, located about 20 km from Nalbari town in Lower Assam, was till 2009 identified as a liquor den and mostly visited by those looking for moonshine when the women, mostly belonging to the Bodo community decided to switch over to weaving, a skill at which most Assamese women and girls are best at.

They joined hands with Gramya Vikash Mancha (GVM), an NGO that arranged for their advanced training in weaving and tailoring.

The Nalbari district used to be a hotbed of insurgency till the late 1990s and its people suffered a lot due to the frequent military operations. The insurgency had severely affected development in the district till a few years ago.

Padma Boro, one of the women in the village, took the lead and soon encouraged 30 others, “mostly unmarried women and widows”, to abandon country liquor for weaving. The state-owned Northeastern Development Finance Limited (NEDFi) then stepped in to provide to them training on looms at Nalbari’s Industrial Training Institute and took them to Kokrajhar, where they interacted with handloom weavers of the same community and understood the specific market demands.

Back home, they managed two looms of their own while NEDFi provided another eight looms, warping drums and other accessories. The NGO built a temporary shed in the village and their journey began. They produce mekhela chadar (used for making traditional women’s dresses), gamocha (traditional towel), dokhona (used for making traditional dresses of Bodo women) and fabric for traditional robes of neighbouring Bhutan – and made a profit of Rs 80,000 last year, which is expected to rise manifold this year.

The NEDFi has been set up to hasten economic development in the northeastern region by identifying and financing commercially viable industries, providing advisory and consultancy services, promoting entrepreneurship through effective mentoring, skill development and capacity building of micro, small and medium enterprises and generating sustainable livelihoods through micro finance and CSR activities.

“It was very tough to convince the village women to leave hooch making as it was already a good source of earning for most of the rural Bodo women. But it not only painted a bad image about the village as a liquor den and the women did not get time to properly attend to their children. Very few children attended school and the customers who came to the village for drinking often created a ruckus. But as soon as we started weaving and our products started getting good markets, it made them confident about switching over to weaving from selling liquor,” Padma Boro told IANS.

The Bodos are the largest plains’ tribe in Assam and the laopani (rice beer) is a traditional brew made by the community. The laopani is consumed in each household in limited quantity and even used in religious rituals of the community. However, due to poor financial status and lack of opportunities to supplement the family income, women of some of the communities had taken to making country liquor and selling this for hefty profits in some places in the state.

“While the girls and women of our village learn the weaving skills from very tender age, the intervention by the GVM and NEDFi helped us by giving new and attractive designs and the technology to do it better in lesser time. Most women learn the basics of weaving at their homes since childhood and so it took less time for them to pick up the new designs and technology,” Boro said.

“I was making country liquor and used to sell it. I have been making it for years and there was no other option for us to earn a livelihood. Lots of people used to come to my house for a drink and I was earning good enough to live a solitary life. However, Padma baideu (Assamese for elder sister) came to me one day and said that by weaving, I can earn almost equally and live a good life. I decided to go with her as it is honourable work to weave. I was selling the liquor only due to compulsion and why should I sell it when there is a dignified way of earning my livelihood,” asked Rebati Swargiary, a widow who joined Boro’s movement in 2010.

The indomitable spirit of the group encouraged NEDFi to scale up its activities by providing a Common Facility Centre under a joint CSR project with IDBI Bank. To take the project forward, the Bagurumba Weavers’ Development Trust was formed with Padma Bodo as its managing trustee. It purchased a 7,600 sq ft plot, constructed a 2,000 sq ft building and bought new looms and accessories.

“The new building consists of a display room, store, office and a hall accommodating 18 looms. It really feels good to see the rural woman joining hands and improving their lives. Children of the village now go to school and things in the village are changing very fast for the better,” said NEDFi deputy general manager Ashim Kumar Das.

The movement started by Padma Boro has not only given the women financial independence but also a dignified life.

(IANS)

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India Can Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?

A total of 548 global experts on women’s issues , 43 of them from India

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BJP Leader Asks Parents Of A Rape Victim To Express Gratitude To Them
Can India Really Take An Ostrich Approach To The Condition Of Women?. Flickr

-By Deepa Gahlot

You read with a mixture of alarm and scepticism, the poll report by the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation that India is the most dangerous country in the world for women, beating Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

According to reports, a total of 548 global experts on women’s issues — 43 of them from India — were asked about risks faced by women in six areas: healthcare, access to economic resources and discrimination, customary practices, sexual violence, nonsexual violence, and human trafficking. And shockingly, India comes out as the worst!

We see women progressing in every field in India, but, there is also the increasing violence against women and young girls reported every day; not long ago, female tourists felt safe in India; but now, women travelling solo are constantly targeted. Everyday there are reports of the rapes and murders of minor girls, often accompanied by unimaginable torture and mutilation.

There has been outrage in India, and also holes punctured in the survey that has such a small number of respondents, but can we really take an ostrich approach to the condition of women? Even as education and healthcare improve for women — at least in metro cities — the contempt for women is socially and culturally ingrained in the Indian psyche. In a city like Mumbai considered progressive and relatively safe for women, the girl child is unwanted even by many educated and wealthy families. In spite of laws being in place, female foeticide and infanticide is rampant, to the extent that there are large territories where there are no girl children and brides for the men have to be ‘imported’ from other states.  As dowry murders and rapes rise, the more unwanted the girl child becomes.  The fact is that India’s gender ratio is deplorable.

And if the male child is valued over the girl child, he grows up believing that he is special and if he is thwarted in any way, he can resort to violence. In spite of education and exposure to progressive ideas, in the case of rape or sexual violence, the tendency to blame and shame the victim persists.

To give just one small example, in the West, accusations of sexual harassment resulted in united shunning of a man as powerful as Harvey Weinstein and many others in the wake of the #MeToo movement, that helped many women speak out about their experiences.

In India, Malayalam actor Dileep, who has been accused in the abduction and rape of an actress, and was boycotted by the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), was recently reinstated. This caused shock and dismay among women in the film industry.

A statement by a group of over 150 women film practitioners says it like it is, “A body that is meant to represent artistes of the Malayalam movie industry showed complete disregard for its own member who is the victim of this gross crime. Even before the case has reached its conclusion, AMMA has chosen to validate a person accused of a very serious crime against a colleague. We condemn this cavalier attitude by artistes against women artistes who are working alongside them. There is misogyny and gender discrimination embedded in this action.

“We admired and supported the Women in Cinema Collective that was formed by women film artistes in Kerala in the aftermath of the abduction and molestation of a colleague, a top star in the industry. We applaud the WCC members who have walked out of AMMA to protest the chairman’s invitation to reinstate the accused. We pledge our continued support to the Women in Cinema Collective who are blazing a trail to battle sexism in the film industry.

“Cinema is an art form that can challenge deeply entrenched violence and discrimination in society. It is distressing to see an industry that stands amongst the best in the country and has even made a mark in world cinema choose to shy away from using their position and their medium responsibly at this important moment. Today, women form a significant part of the film and media industries, we reject any attempt at silencing us and making us invisible.”

The Gujarat elections have brought the BJP and the Congress in close contest with each other.
Indian women. VOA

The preference for male children has had some unexpected ramifications. In a working paper published by the American non-profit, National Bureau of Economic Research, by Northwestern University’s Seema Jayachandran and Harvard University’s Rohini Pande (quoted in Quartz Media), finds that stunting in Indian children could also be blamed on the cultural preference for sons.

“In India, on average, the first child — if he is a son — doesn’t suffer from stunting. But, if the first — and so the eldest — child of the family is a girl, she suffers from a height deficit. And, then, if the second child is a boy, and hence the eldest son of the family, he will not be stunted. This happens because of an unequal allocation of resources to the first child”.

According to the report, “When Jayachandran and Pande compared India and Africa results through this lens, they found that the Indian first and eldest son tends to be taller than an African firstborn. If the eldest child of the family is a girl, and a son is born next, the son will still be taller in India than Africa. For girls, however, the India-Africa height deficit is large. It is the largest for daughters with no older brothers, probably because repeated attempts to have a son takes a beating on the growth of the girls.”

Also read: Has Legal Framework Turned a Blind Eye towards Under-representation of Women in Indian Politics?

In spite of all the Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao rhetoric, the required shift in the male-centric attitude towards a more egalitarian one is simply not happening; or, it is a case of one step forward, two steps backward. The Thomson Reuters Foundation report may be unfair and skewed, but being known as the rape capital of the world does nothing to improve the image of India in the world or even in its own eyes. (IANS)