“I am restless and I don’t mind leaving this comfortable, static life. I could live a year on my own in a remote village”. -Michael Palin

Between densely forested areas and breath-taking natural landscape of Ambassa, lies Kathalbari Village Committee (VC)[1]. Dominated by Schedule Tribe population, Kathalbari Village Committee is the first among the Gram Panchayat/Village Committee in Tripura East Constituency to be launched under Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). The Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Mr. Jitendra Chaudhury under Tripura East Constituency launched Kathalbari VC on 14th November 2014. Since then various initiations have been undertaken to convert Kathalbari VC to Model Village or what we would call an ‘Adarsh Gram’. Swaniti team assisted Mr. Chaudhury’s in changing the Kathalbari VC to a Model Village, an example to rest of Tripura.

Kathalbari VC is one of the 35 Village Committees in Ambassa RD Block in Dhalai District that comes under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council(TTAADC) and the population is comprised of members from different tribal communities namely Mog, Reang, Tripuri and Bongcher. Being situated among the hills, the seven habitations/hamlets are scattered across the village area.  Once in Tripura, I started observing and interacting with the people in order to better understand the issues pertaining to their respective habitations. I conducted Focus Group Discussions with Self Help Group (SHG) members and Pachra weaving tribal women in the village. The aim here was to explore the possible avenues that would help strengthen and leverage existing human capital, especially among tribal women in the village.

I observed that SHG members who had started their own business ventures had displayed greater confidence. I also observed that weekly saving habit has been inculcated among the members. The members have utilized the Revolving Fund and Community Investment Fund for starting business ventures such as practicing animal husbandry, starting a tea stall, piggery and poultry and buying strings to weave ‘Pachra’ (Handloom) etc. Mr. Jayanta, the Cluster Coordinator of Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission(TRLM) under Ambassa Block informed that he has seen a transformation among these members. Their willingness to regularly save and start up their own business ventures reflects the start of women empowerment and development in the community and decreases their reliance on moneylender for loans.

During my visit, I got the opportunity to interact with women from Reang and Tripuri community to understand their age old tradition of weaving ‘Pachra’ and ‘Achal’. Weaving has always been a matter of celebration and pride for the people of Tripura since its inception. The women of Tripura have been always used weaving as a mode to earn and achieve financial independence. This tradition has been carried on for generations by the women of Reang and Tripuri communities in Kathalbari.

The hour I spent with the weavers helped me to better understand the process behind the creation of these beautiful fabrics. The raw material, i.e. the cotton strings, costs INR 550-600 per kg and the artists can cover the cost by selling it in a range of INR 1000-2000. Normally, women weave the ‘Pachra’ and ‘Achal’ at their home with equipment called ‘Kamar Tatah’. It takes them a week or two to finish weaving a ‘Pachra’ and ‘Achal’. The growing cultural contact with neighbouring areas and changing times are reflected in the weaving pattern of ‘Pachra’ and ‘Achal’. The modern tribal women often add their personal touch to the fabrics they weave and are accepting of influences from other cultures and global trends. Despite the transformation, Reang and Tripuri women continue to preserve their cultural identity through traditional attire even as they look to a brighter future. Looking back, I see an immense potential among the women that would help them carve out a niche and establish themselves as successful entrepreneurs.

[1] Under the TTAADC area, the VC operates as the institution of local self-governance, similar to Gram Panchayat in non-ADC area

Neha Mallick is working in Engagement Team at Swaniti Initiative and can be contacted at neha.m@swaniti.in