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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Impulse Social Enterprises: Empowering Women of India’s North East

Traditional loom being prepared by hand by Mishing Tribe woman, Assam

A year and a half back, when I was giving my TEDx talk at IIT Guwahati, I met a lady whose story truly moved me. She was one of the speakers and her story was about how she empowered the women of the North Eastern states of India to fight prostitution, human trafficking, domestic abuse and child trafficking through the use of their traditional art, craft and weaving skills. The lady I am talking about is Hasina Kharbhih, the founder of Impulse NGO Network and one who has slowly and steadily created an active environment for the last 25 years that is addressing the root causes of human trafficking in the North East region.

Portrait of Mishing tribal woman weaving on her traditional loom, Panbari village, Assam

What started as a small initiative in her home state of Meghalaya is now a full fledged not-for-profit NGO (Impulse NGO Network) and a for-profit Impulse Social Enterprises (home to the Empower clothing, accessories and rural travel brands) across all the north eastern states and the surrounding international borders. Both these organizations fight human trafficking in the region. While the Impulse NGO network aims to report, rescue, rehabilitate, repatriate, and reintegrate human trafficking victims, the Impulse Social Enterprises aims to promote local artisans and create sustainable livelihood that helps prevent potential cases of dangerous migration, which might lead to women and child trafficking and abuse.

Mishing tribal women setting the threads right for the looms

Today, Impulse Social Enterprises has over 30,000 weavers under its wings across the Karbi, Mishing, Bhoi, Mizo, Idu-Mishmi and many other tribes of the north eastern region. They hand-hold these weavers and enable them to create traditional designs of scarfs, sarongs, bags, cushion covers, table runners, and many other accessories. These women weave whenever they find time amidst their day to day activities (cooking, washing, taking care of kids, running home, etc.). These clothes and accessories are then sold across India and even internationally too. And the weavers get a significant cut of the sales, thus creating a sustainable livelihood for them without having to venture out of their village region. All of this functions under the Empower brand. Some of their products are also sold online on their Empower store.

Mishing tribal women and their traditional looms, Assam

Another interesting product offered by Impulse Social Enterprises is Rural Tourism wherein you get to experience the life of a weaver up close, stay in their homes, eat with them, explore the true countryside life and spend a relaxed holiday. This way, you get an offbeat rural holiday experience while the village home that is hosting you makes some additional revenue that allows them to follow their traditions and yet improve their quality of life.

Mishing tribal women and their colorful clothing, Assam

I have personally experienced staying with the weavers at the Mishing village of Panbari located on the fringes of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam and I have to say that the experience was very humbling, a treat for my palate and one that I would repeat in the blink of an eye. In fact, I hope to stay with such weavers across all the different tribes in the different states of India’s North East.

Mishing tribal woman learning the art of weaving at Panbari, Assam, India

If you wish to do your bit in empowering the women of the North East and help Impulse NGO Network and Impulse Social Enterprises in achieving their mission, you can do any of the following:

1) Offer your services as a Volunteer to the NGO

Mekhla and Chadar being woven by Mishing tribal women, Assam

2) Buy some of the products created by these women in their eye catching traditional and yet trendy designs

3) Spend a off beat rural holiday with them in their village and see unique cultures of their tribal life up close

I hope all of us can do our bit in protecting the people and traditions of the beautiful north eastern region of India.



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