Tucked away in the far northeast corner of the country, Nagaland is witnessing an unprecedented movement on rights of women to contest elections in urban local bodies.However, just a few kilometres away from Dimapur, a lady has shown how women are capable of transforming an entire village into a success story.Located around 15 kilometres away from Dimapur, Diezephe village, also known as the handicraft village, now has more than 200 women busy spinning and weaving. Sonnie Kath, the woman who has made a difference in the life, is nothing less than a Goddess for these women.Sonnie has travelled across the length and breadth of the country and it was then that she realized the need of empowering the women of her own land — Nagaland.A co-founder of Exotic Echo, to bring around rural empowerment, Sonnie started working on the mission of livelihood for women in 2008. She used the centuries-old-traditional art of weaving for weaving a better future. The Loin-loom is a dying art and needs precision to weave the best clothes, but Sonnie did not think of failure, instead kept spinning the wheel for the women.Sonnie explains the challenges, “In our state, the women dominate the household. From early morning to evening, from food to cultivation — everything is looked after by them. So, it is very difficult to mobilize the women to work out of household in the state as a full time worker for livelihood. We started making them understand and convince them to why not earn Rs 50 a day around eight years ago and slowly it started and kept increasing. It is a big challenge to talk to the village committee also because in old days the women did not weave for livelihood, but weaved to cover the family, so turning into commercial was also a big step for us to achieve. The patriarchal set up in the state is so strong that we have to be very careful with the tribal designs also.”
With not much cooperation from the government and no loans available for loin-loom, Sonnie took up the challenge. What had started with just 15 women, now has more than 200 working and earning more than Rs 4000 per month. More than supporting a dying art, it was the passion to do something for the women and her native state.Sonnie states, “It was a big challenge because the mainland people do not understand what loin loom is and the loin loom products are time consuming, need lots of strength and people don’t even know we are from which place and there is a problem of identification there. Even at home, because of economic problem people have started wearing acrylic and other materials readily available and cheap. These are issues that create problem in entering the market despite introduction of modern looms, nothing much has happened. We cannot compete with the neighbouring states like Assam and Manipur in handloom sector. The only thing we can do is loin loom which is home-based work and is a dying art. It is attracting the international market, so it is important for the government to specify and support the loin loom to get better market.”
Sonnie can leave any man behind in her respect for her traditional values and art, but is shocked at the response woman reservation has got from the elite political class. Wondering that this is a protest where many find it difficult to find women in protests.A proud Sonnie says, “It is time consuming and strength is required for it. We do not want our traditional stuff, which in old days even the head hunters had earned lying on the streets. Talking about the value, it is higher because we do not create it in bulk. In other states, the weavers remain weavers and so do artisans and the product is cheap. I don’t want Naga traditional stuff to lie on the streets of any metropolitan cities. It is very unique and so has to be expensive. The government should help in recognizing, and why it cannot come to bulk so that we get the price of the effort and goods remain expensive because of the uniqueness. Reservation should not have become a big issue and could have been resolved if dialogue was there. I feel that dialogue was not there and they are not connected with the grass roots and have no idea on what the women folks sentiment are, only the state-level politicians are creating these kind of problems here.”Exotic Echo has now echoed to the European countries, who buy more than Indians. With due respect to the effort put in making the cloth, but it’s women like Sonnie who are still waiting for recognition for the gender in the society in Nagaland.