Traditional Handlooms revive to empower the Women of North Bengal

 |  Written by jcsawm  |  1
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In the year 2009, in view of expanding the mission area in North Bengal under Jalpaiguri diocese, the Darjeeling Jesuit province was considering of starting an English medium school in Alipurduar. Fr Vijay Kindo was assigned for this noble cause to begin the school in Alipurduar who knew the tricks of the trade very well. Fr Alvin Minj was assigned to explore the area for other possible mission opportunities around the area.

Without delay Fr Alvin was in the villages and houses of the people belonging to the Bodo [Mech], Garo, Rabha and Koch communities. He noticed that they still practiced the age old traditional weaving and produced marvelous clothes imprinting on them their own traditional motifs. His interest grew in their way of life, cultures, songs, dances, celebrations, food etc. The Bodos whom he visited the most, showed him their exceedingly beautiful weaved products done at home in their traditional handlooms. He told them that their traditional talents could fetch enough money to support their livelihood if they were better organized in their trade. He promised them to find resources and markets for their products. And so a project was conceptualized and planned to help them. Two international funding agencies accepted the project proposal. We received funds but could not start the project immediately as some thought it was a kind of a business project and surely not meant for the Jesuits. But Fr Alvin believed that helping the poor cannot be against the charism of the Society of Jesus. Finally the project for weaving, clubbing with skill training for tea garden people, was launched in Matigara near Siliguri and Alipurduar.

Program was inaugurated on the 8th of March 2015 on the day of the International Women’s Day celebration with the first batch of staff and students. 

This project was meant to attend to the needs like…

 

[1] Need of alleviation poverty from the tea garden people through skill training program.

[2] Need of alternative jobs for livelihood.

[3] Need of supply of capital funds for weavers.

[4] Need of marketing skills.

[5] Need of creating stores for the finished products.

[6] Need of creation of space for weaving even in wet seasons.

[7] Bringing variations in commodities.

[8] Linking our programs with the like minded NGOs.

[9] Linking with Government schemes/ministries/Depts etc.

[10] Cutting down human trafficking rate from the tea gardens.

 

Our working area covered five districts [Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Kochbihar and Uttar Dinajpur] of North Bengal. Our places of works are Matigara, Alipurduar, Hasimara and Kalabari. We trained 100 students in weaving, warping, ring framing, designing and marketing in the very first year of our project. We supported 40-45 families in the villages through weaving income generation program. We participated twice in Tribal artisan mela (exhibition) organized by the Ministry of Tribal affairs, Govt. of India. Our products were much appreciated by all the participants in Gangtok and we were given first prize for our products and participation in Tribal artisan mela.

 

We conducted Comprehensive Training program [CTP] with the Ministry of Tribal affairs, Delhi at our centre for the Oraon tribal girls to take them to advance level of training. Our students received certificates for weaving and designing in handlooms from the Ministry of tribal affairs, Government of India, Delhi. During CTP training programs we followed the tribal concepts: motifs of Oraon tribal people and transcribed them on clothes. Our students also came up with the variety of proto type tribal products which could match the interests of many modern men and women of today.

 

We also had the opportunity to invite the Honorable Minister Shri James Kujur, Minister of Tribal Development, West Bengal, on the occasion of our foundation day celebration on the 8th March 2017 at our centre in Matigara. Also an exhibition and a fashion show on tribal handlooms were organized on the same day to show people the handlooms of tribal people of North Bengal. The entire show was managed by the tribal women of the tea gardens. Our works and shows were much appreciated by all who visited the centre on this auspicious occasion.

 

We further linked our weaving centre with the legal aid programs to eradicate sufferings of the tea garden people. We did a quick survey of the closed gardens and decided to file a PIL [Public Interest Litigation] in the High court of Kolkata in the name of the affected tea garden people in Terai and dooars. High court announced a special Lok Adalat for the tea gardens on the basis of our plea. Thus we took up the challenge to work with the local district and subdivision courts and district legal services authorities to organize Lok adalats in the tea gardens. We organized 9 special Lok adalats and created a platform to hear nearly 10,686 cases in one single year. Roughly we have managed to give relief of Rs. 20,00,00,000 to 25,00,00,000 to the people in need in a single year. All the expenses for the cause were borne by the weaving centre, Matigara. 

 

The aim of this centre is: The empowerment of tea garden people, very specially the women, in their own uniqueness.

 

 

Our activities are: [1] skill training for tea garden women [2] creating self-employed jobs for them [3] giving assistance in need (availing raw materials, repairs, maintenance of equipments etc) [4] availing loans from the banks [5] marketing their finished products.

 

Our products are traditional. This is an attempt to save the unique cultural identity and products of North Bengal. This is also an attempt to galvanize traditions with modernism and explore markets for them. We produce traditional clothes mostly belonging to Oraon, Munda, Bode, Rabha, Garo and Bengali communities of North Bengal. We also blend our designs with the latest fashions and styles by giving a touch of modernism in our products.  In doing so we want to preserve and promote our rich traditions in North Bengal.

 

 

Fr. Alvin Minj,SJ
Prabhat Tara (Weaving) Centre
Matigara-734010
Email: fralvinsj@gmail.com

 

1 Comments

Sunny Jacob SJ's picture

Sunny Jacob SJ

Really an eye opener. Great initiative. All the best!