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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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Women In India Turn To Technology To Stay Safe From Harassment

Police in many Indian cities are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints

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Women, Harassment
Women stand at a crowded place in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, Oct. 9, 2006. Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a survey Thursday. VOA

New web and phone apps in India are helping women stay safe in public spaces by making it easier for them to report harassment and get help, developers say.

Women are increasingly turning to technology to stay safe in public spaces, which in turn helps the police to map “harassment prone” spots — from dimly lit roads to bus routes and street corners.

Safety is the biggest concern for women using public and private transport, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey released Thursday, as improving city access for women becomes a major focus globally.

“Women always strategize on how to access public spaces, from how to dress to what mode of transport to take, timings and whether they should travel alone or in a group,” said Sameera Khan, columnist and co-author of “Why Loiter? Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets.”

#MeToo, Victim, Harassment
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician M.J. Akbar takes the oath during the swearing-in ceremony of new ministers, July 5, 2017, at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi. The Indian minister and veteran newspaper editor announced his resignation, Oct. 17, 2018, while still insisting that the accusations of sexual harassment are false. VOA

Reported crimes up 80 percent

Indian government data shows reported cases of crime against women rose by more than 80 percent between 2007 and 2016.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012 put the spotlight on the dangers women face in India’s public spaces.

The incident spurred Supreet Singh of charity Red Dot Foundation to create the SafeCity app that encourages women across 11 Indian cities to report harassment and flag hotspots.

“We want to bridge the gap between the ground reality of harassment in public spaces and what is actually being reported,” said Singh, a speaker at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference on Thursday.

India, Harassment
Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi. VOA

The aim is to take the spotlight off the victim and focus on the areas where crimes are committed so action can be taken.

Dimly lit lanes, crowded public transport, paths leading to community toilets, basements, parking lots and parks are places where Indian women feel most vulnerable, campaigners say.

Stigma attached to sexual harassment and an insensitive police reporting mechanism result in many cases going unreported, rights campaigners say.

Apps are promising

But apps like SafeCity, My Safetipin and Himmat (courage) promise anonymity to women reporting crimes and share data collected through the app with government agencies such as the police, municipal corporations and the transport department.

Students and teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University participate in a protest demanding suspension of a professor accused of sexual harassment, in New Delhi
People hold placards at a rally condemning the rapes of two girls, aged 8 and 11, in Ahmedabad, India. VOA

“The data has helped in many small ways,” said Singh of the Red Dot Foundation. “From getting the police to increase patrolling in an area prone to ‘eve-teasing’ to getting authorities to increase street lighting in dark alleys, the app is bringing change.”

Also Read: Women And Girls In Poor Countries Are Using Contraceptives More: Report

Police in many Indian cities, including New Delhi, Gurgaon and Chandigarh, are also encouraging women to use apps to register complaints, promising prompt action.

“Safety apps are another such strategy that could be applied by women but I worry that by giving these apps, everyone else, most importantly the state, should not abdicate its responsibility towards public safety,” Khan said. (VOA)