Tribal Women Entrepreneurs Bring Prosperity to this Village in Meghalaya
Thorikakona Rabha in the North Garo Hills district in Meghalaya is a unique village. Bordering Assam, it is inhabited by the Scheduled Tribe Rabha community. Unlike the rest of the area where the lingua franca is Garo, the Rabhas speak in Assamese. Very few in the Rabha community can speak in Garo. In a largely patriarchal social system in the community, women due to their restricted mobility, are unacquainted with the Garo language. This along with low literacy, technical skills, and lack of access to finance, are major impediments to social and economic progress.
When the Rangsang Producer Group (PG) was formed with 18 women in the village under the FOCUS program, it provided, for the very first time, a platform for women to come together. Devibala Rabha says, “We received training on banana planting and also processing. The PG could also access funds from the program. Once the path was shown, women began to take small steps.”
The one lakh rupees that the PG received was invested in making chips of banana through scientific methods of using thermometers to maintain oil temperature, packaging, and selling it in the market. This enabled them to earn about INR nine hundred profit per stalk of banana which is double the money made normally. This has given the group immense confidence.
Bubita Rabha, “As we moved out of the households and interacted with the traders, the language barrier was broken. I have picked up many words in Garo and can now easily negotiate with traders.”
The PG has also leveraged funds for piggery and weaving. Juti Rabha says “I have taken INR 20,000 as a loan from the group and completed repayment within three months with the profit I got from weaving. I weave traditional dresses and made a profit of Rs 72,000 in one season. I also invested my profit and purchased piglets and made Rs 60,000 by selling the grown-up pigs. I earned more money last year than the last ten years combined.”
Devibala Rabha says, “I invested the money in expanding our traditional weaving and also to start piggery. I made a profit of more than Rs 23,000. I actually purchased new clothes after a long time.”
This group of Rabha women meets religiously every week for their weekly savings of Rs 50. They maintain an account book and share their experiences as entrepreneurs. They also encourage each other to break old shackles and learn new things.
Bubita Rabha says, “I am a very shy person and dislike going out. The group members encouraged me to start pig rearing and weave simple traditional dresses. I took a loan from the group. I sold three dresses recently. Taking inspiration from others in the group, I have also increased my litter of pigs.”
The Rangsang PG has enabled members of the Rabha community to break many barriers and aspire for a better life for themselves and their families. They want to further strengthen the many small micro-enterprises that they have initiated. There is a vibrant ecosystem of entrepreneurship in this village on the Meghalaya-Assam border.
Devibala Rabha concludes, “This is just a start. The PG has helped lifted us financially, and brought unity and harmony to the village. But we do not want to stop. We want to increase the area for banana plantations and scale up processing. Weaving is another area and so is pig rearing. We want to connect to bigger markets or even open our own stall.”