Indian women weaving a silk-smooth life

Himalayan News Service

Guwahati, January 18:

In its steady efforts to empower women, a village in Assam has started to pay female weavers at par with men. Known as the Manchester of the northeast, silk village Sualkuchi employed its women in the cooperative movement to make designer saris, shawls and jackets. From a 10-year-old schoolgirl to 70-year-old women, all are doing their part to make the traditional business a success. The village, 40 km from Guwahati, has more than 1,000 families and each family has its own weaving farm.

“Our village may be technologically backward, but all of us are working and earning our livelihood. There is no gender inequality or exploitation,” Bhabi, a woman in Sualkuchi, said, “The more we work, the more we earn. There is no male-female difference. Everyone gets the same wages.” From processing the thread to weaving, women do it all. While the elderly process the thread and put it in the machines, the young ones weave it. Depending on the design of their saris and shawls, they earn around $11-$15 a week. No woman works here without an advance of at least $110. Said Putuli, 24, who has been employed for the past three years, “When male members are not getting any employment, this is heaven for us. It is better to work and earn than sit at home.”

Family members too don’t seem to interfere with the women’s pay. “I am saving my money in a bank and have also invested in insurance. The money that I save will be used for my marriage,” Niverika said. However, all is not hunky-dory for the villagers. The silk they produce does not always find viable markets. “The five cooperative stores rarely help in sending our products outside Assam,” said Kishore Deka. “Due to the lack of government support and technological backwardness, we are unable to mass produce. This leads to higher prices and lesser demand,” said another villager.

“We need the government’s help to send our products out of Assam. If that can be done, we will have a better lifestyle.”