News: Weaving Better Alternatives for Women Displaced by Climate Change

(Reuters AlertNet) June 16, 2010 – KOKRAJHAR, India – Swdwmsri Narzary, 19, a nimble weaver, rests her fingers on her loom and gets a faraway look when asked to recall her last few years of struggle dealing with the pressures of climate change.

Orphaned at an early age, Swdwmsri lived with her elder brother and his family in Bijni, a rural village in Assam province’s Chirang district. But increasingly unpredictable weather conditions – drought one year, incessant and untimely rains the next – made life gradually harder as the family’s crops repeatedly failed.

With the family on the verge of starvation, Swdwmsri had to drop out of school. Her brother decided not to waste money sowing new crops and instead used his remaining cash to migrate to a nearby city, Guwahati, in search of a job.

Swdwmsri realized she had to find her own means of livelihood. But she had few options. It was then she met a lady from her village who promised her a good job in Guwahati.


Both nervous and excited, she took up work as a poorly paid maid in several households. She also worked as a baby-sitter in one home – until she was molested by the landlord and forced to flee to a friend’s home. Even the busy city traffic made her anxious, and once she was nearly run down by a speeding bus.

Dismayed by what she saw as a harsh life in the city, Swdwmsri longed to go back to her native village and her favourite activity – weaving the traditional patterns and motifs of her tribe, the Bodos. But like many women displaced by climate change, she found she had few resources or options to improve her situation.

Then one day, as she was waiting to catch a bus, she met an old acquaintance. Bimala, another migrant from Bijni, said she had been able to return home and find work with the Roje Eshansholi (Beloved Weaving) Cooperative Society, a weavers’ collective based in Kokrajhar.

The cooperative, set up by schoolteacher Malati Rani Narzary, seeks to create alternative work and dignity at home for impoverished Bodo tribal women vulnerable to climate change-related displacement, ethnic conflict, and human trafficking.

“I realized that Bodo women … were some of the finest weavers in the region,” Narzary said. “I decided to hone their weaving skills to suit the demands of the national as well as the international market.”

After initial training, weavers and spinners in the program are separated into self-help groups that work in their native villages.


From a modest beginning of only five members and four looms in 1996, the society now has over 1,000 women beneficiaries in Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Chirang district, some in very remote areas. More than 500 spinners and 50 weavers work in muga silk, the traditional golden silk of Assam.

Young girls like Swdwmsri and Bimala are allowed to stay at a women’s residence at the project’s headquarters, where they feel at home and secure.

“We send part of our earnings to our families. But we would rather stay here and do what we enjoy most – weaving,” Bimala said.

Fashion designers now visit the weavers to help them create new products that will sell well. Swdwmsri remembers how a lady from the National Institute of Design in the Indian city of Ahmedabad came to relate that their traditional handloom material has been turned into scarves, cushion covers, curtains, table mats and other goods.

“I have never used a table mat in my life. But I am happy that my handmade products adorn the homes of the rich and the famous and even plush hotels in big cities,” Bimala said.

Narzary’s aim of giving Bodo weavers a larger platform for their efforts has taken shape in the form of the Bodoland Regional Apex Weavers and Cooperative Federation, an

umbrella organization for all the weavers in the area.

The organization has helped weavers showcase their products in trade and textile fairs and fashion shows.

“I feel proud that apart from preserving our age-old weaving tradition, we are also able

to hold back our young and vulnerable girls from working as domestic help in big cities. Moreover, they cannot be lured by the unscrupulous middleman and end up in brothels,” said Narzary, who is chairperson of the federation.

Teresa Rehman is a journalist based in Northeast India. She can be reached at

Source: Reuters AlertNet

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