RIHA was formed with the objective to develop a sustainable livelihood source to the disaster affected households in Majuli district of Assam. The initiative began in the karatipar Panchayat of Majuli. The intervention is based on handloom weavers where it strives to bridge the gap between the market and the weavers while ensuring fair returns to the producers. RIHA is an initiative of NEADS which started with the support from OXFAM. RIHA is culturally driven and community based where it has initiated with the collaboration of Karatipar Panchayat.
The idea to develop handloom cottage industry in the Karatipar Panchayat could be justified for the following reasons:-
The geography – This panchayat in Majuli is one of the most vulnerable to disaster. Almost every year post rainy season the villages faces heavy destruction from flood. Then being situated at the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra river, there is a high rate of land erosion happening on the land facing the river. Under these disastrous circumstances the investments could be destructed in short time. Agriculture which is the primary livelihood source to the general population could not be practiced for about four months every year as land remains of no use during and after flood. Many times post flood the farm land gets filled with sand then people have to shift to other areas where new land gets formed.
The social composition – The panchayat has a population of 9,555. About 85% of the population is tribal belonging to Mishing tribe. Traditionally Mishings have been practicing self sustenance, with very less market interaction. With high rate of land erosion their living is increasingly becoming difficult. A large population have lost their land and had to migrate. Practicing a different culture it is difficult to adjust in a new context. Many of them had to join the urban informal sector for their living.
Skill – Women from almost all the households are skilled weavers. Their designs on garments like Mekhela Chador a common women dress wear in Assam has its unique identity. It is believed that their beautiful designs cannot be made by any other. Also, the environment is best suited for silk production and the weavers have been rearing silk for long. Thus, total production of a silk garment i.e. silk rearing to garment can all happen in the village itself.
All the above can be explained by one anecdote. Ranjana lives in Samagudi village of this Panchayat. She has a family of five members. In the year 2016 the family lost all of their land due to erosion. Now they have built a small hut which is a temporary settlement built on someone else’s land. Agriculture use to be a major source of living now the only man of the family is the bread winner. He work as a mason and supports his family through the daily wage. Two adult women in the in the house are skilled in weaving cloths. However, due to lack of resources their production is very less and generate insignificant income. They are traditional weavers and can make cloths of most exotic silks of very high value from their home based handlooms.
The community here has a rich culture where there is dance, singing, music and so on. An intervention can flourish if it appreciates this culture and finds way to integrate with it. It is also a way to take the entire community on board with the associated community initiative. The launching of RIHA provided space to celebrate the culture and the outcome was an overwhelming welcome of RIHA by the community. Facing disaster every year yet this community has the capacity to dance over the disaster and its is this quality that will make RIHA a great success in the coming time thereon uniting people to face disaster collectively.
RIHA has been designed by the community engagement and it can be successful only if the entire community participates and have a sense of ownership on RIHA. It is this community led approach that it has received huge response. At present RIHA has been able to mobilize 35 self-help groups collectively holding about 400 members across the Panchayat.
Seeing the potential of RIHA and the positive response coming from the market we are taking steps to register RIHA as Weaver’s Producer Company. RIHA seeks support for its way forward. At present RIHA needs following :-
1. A shop : The weavers here are skilled in making varieties of garments made from different types of yarns (silk, cotton, wool, etc.) and bamboo artworks. Without a shop of their own they are selling the products to the middlemen coming to their door. The returns that they get from selling like this is many times less than the final price of the product sold to the customer.
2. Handloom up-gradation : At present the weavers are using age old handloom device to weave cloths. These handlooms take almost double time than what could be produced by an upgraded handloom.
3. Training : There is a need for conducting workshops for training the weavers on natural dyeing, upgrading handlooms and learning techniques for different other designing.
4. Resources to build a movement : RIHA is very much in the direction of becoming a movement. For the further expansion of this movement the resources will be required. The major activities that we are planning to undertake for its expansion are – adopt the Joint Liability Group (JLG) approach to form sub groups of weavers comprising of 5 members and link them with banks to avail credit, build rallies and promote the initiative at the district level to involve other stakeholders including state and banks, participate in trade exhibitions and conduct workshops.
RIHA is not just another livelihood based project, it’s a movement in making. This movement is important because a lot of the local issues which in a way is their rights is not being addressed by the state. For instance the land erosion is still not considered as a form of disaster which prevents the right compensation to the people losing their land. RIHA will grow with the community and in its every step it seeks to unite the community. It will serve a platform for the community to discuss and raise their voice collectively to bring solution to the common problems.