Like Ambalika many indigenous Tipara and Khasia women has taken up handlooms leaving outdoor labour -- like in lemon orchards or rearing pigs and chicken -- cherishing dreams of better lives.Photo: STAR
On this warm winter afternoon, Ambalika Dev Barma is busy with her handloom. The shuttle moves across the loom laying down the fill yarn. It passes through the comb-like reed that presses the filling yarn right against the fabric.
With each passing of the shuttle, the cloth gets longer. And longer gets the dream of Ambalika and nine others in the indigenous Tripura village in Srimongol.
Bright red and blue yarn feeds into the loom. The patterns develop, bit by bit.
“We are already late. I must finish it in a day or two,” Ambalika says without looking up. “I already have two samples done. This is the third one.”
Once it is done, Ambalika will come to Dhaka to meet the procurement team of Aarong, the largest handicraft chain shop in the country. She hopes the procurement team would like her samples. She hopes the samples would match their designs. And then a new world would open up for this backward community.
This promises to be an important leap for the Tiparas who eke out a living from lemon plantation and a bit by rearing pigs and chicken. But lemon sells cheap. And pigs have limited buyers, mainly among the Khasia people. For them life is on the fringe.
About a few months ago, somebody in a US government-funded project, Integrated Protected Area Co-management (IPAC), thought up that the fringe life of these 'forest people' could be hooked up to the mainstream. And in exchange they could be asked to take care of the forest. The alternative livelihood would reduce their dependence on the forest. The Tiparas, like any other indigenous group, know weaving. They do it for themselves; and sometimes they sell to any tourists who happen to visit them.
“But for livelihood they need a stable market and we thought of Aarong,” says Iffat Newaz, communication specialist for IPAC. “Aarong sells a wide range of rural products and it depends on a wide network of rural producers. So the Tiparas could as well be one of their suppliers.”
The idea was followed up and contact was made with Aarong. The boutique house wanted to meet the Tipara women.
So one day, the villagers found nine of their women getting into a microbus and setting off for Dhaka. At the Aarong office, they were shown some designs of table runners and asked to come back with samples.
With excitement, the team came back. Ambalika decided to make the samples herself. The first two were made quickly. But she got the first hiccup with the third one that needed beige yarn which was not available. So she contacted Aarong.
“Use white yarn if you don't get beige,” the woman on the other end of the phone said.
So the looms started again. And now Ambalika is about to finish the samples.
“Next week, we will take them to Aarong again. If the samples are okay, then price negotiation will take place,” says Iffat.
IPAC has already trained 13 Tiparas on designing. They went through a 20-day course during which they received Tk 70 a day in allowance. Before IPAC another US-funded project Nishorgo had trained 42 women. So the community now has 55 women who are ready for the job.
“If we can get the Aarong contract, we will not work in the lemon orchard,” Ambalika says. “Orchard work is tedious. With weaving, we can work from home. We can look after our children and earn too.”
Ambalika smiled in the late afternoon light that made patterns on her face.