Santina left her village in Lower Assam in 2006. She had lived with fear, hunger and in poverty. But as she was growing up watching her mother weaving on the loom, Santina knew one thing; she too would weave one day.
By the time Santina grew up tradition of hand woven designs were giving away to machine made products. People in her village would soon be without work. Santina dreamt of working with her community and help them sustain the traditional loom.
Determined to live her dream she worked as a domestic help to complete her studies with a diploma in garment and apparel making. She then set up her own company WEFT which works with weavers on furnishings and accessories. She continues to work as a household help while creating new designs.
Weaving is part of the creative consciousness of the women of rural Assam. Generations of women in Assam have passed down unique designs and techniques for weaving the finely-textured Eri and Muga silks that are native to the Brahmaputra Valley. These textiles are beautiful, wearable stuff-of-dreams, but they also have a strong sense of place.
Historically textile traditions encompassed the use of natural dyes on these silks as an important social and cultural practice in rural Assam. This is fast disappearing. The natural dyes used in these silks are extracted from plants and other organic products– bark, berries, madder roots, flowers, insect nests, cow dung, tea leaves—indigenous to Assam, a biodiversity hotspot and home to 3000 flora species. Women from Assam’s various ethnic groups have honed the alchemical art of transforming these products of the earth and jungle into usable natural dyes. At present, only a handful of artisans are practicing the traditional arts of weaving and dye making.
In today’s world of fashion, textile natural dye and hand woven are accorded very high value. It is therefore important to link these hand woven and handmade products using natural dye to the high value market outside, which will bring in economic benefits for the grass root and home stead weavers and producers.
Social enterprises can support wealth generation for social return by reinvesting in the enterprises to fund expansion and sustain the culture of handloom, hand woven and hand crafted products, there by supporting livelihood of women at the grassroots . It can definitely have broad reaching effects culturally, socially and economically . It will breathe new life into dying cultural traditions that bring beauty and continuity to Assam. At the same time, the ability of the women of rural Assam to earn a livelihood and, thereby, gain economic strength and greater social status in their communities will be greatly enhanced. Women with enhanced economic output will be empowered largely to contribute to the decision making process in a family and house hold. That holds the key not just to development but peaceful conflict resolution as well.
Santina would like to go back to her village some day without fear or hunger.