Rupjyoti Sakia Gogoi from Assam started Village Weaves, a community-based venture, an organization that is repurposing plastic to weave a story of women empowerment, wildlife conservation and environmental sustainability.
The impending climate doom
Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution. Today, plastics have become ubiquitous; they can be found everywhere, from the pristine snow-capped Mount Everest to the bottom of the sea, posing a grave threat to the environment and all life forms. Frequently mistaken for food, they choke animals and birds to death. And, with such cases steadily rising, improved waste management and recycling have become the need of the hour. Rupjyoti Sakia Gogoi, a 47-year-old woman from Assam, has been doing her bit by weaving plastic into home decor and utility items such as handbags, doormats, table mats, wall hangings, coasters, tea cosies, runners and other craft items.
An indigenous hero!
Rupjyoti hails from Bosagaon, a village near Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. She laid the foundation of Village Weaves, a collective, in 2004. The collective prevents villagers from littering the plastic in the vicinity by sensitising them and encouraging them to rather collect it in their homes. They pick it up from their doorstep once or twice a week. and then weave into numerous craft items. She recalls, “It was when the waste became extremely disturbing to me, I thought of weaving it into something just the way I would weave cotton threads into useful things.” Handloom weaving is a traditional art form practised by all the village women during their leisure time in Bosagaon village. Rupjyoti gave them a short training on how to creatively incorporate plastic into the loom along with a few subsidiary activities.
Rupjyoti has trained nearly 2300 poor village women from 35 villages in Assam. They follow simple steps – first, cutting strips of the plastic using a pair of scissors, and tying the strips together to make it into a long thread. Then, using a traditional handloom, the cotton thread is woven in the vertical direction while plastic is woven in the horizontal direction. Rupjyoti elaborates, “It initially takes nearly 14 days in just setting up the loom, however, once it is done, one can weave 6 table mats (19″ in length and 14” in breadth) per day. Since most of the products are bought by tourists visiting the park, she also helps them in marketing the products in Kaziranga Haat as they lack good communication skills in English.
Breaking the shackles of patriarchy
Rupjyoti said, “It makes the village women feel empowered as they gain economic independence. Women in my village are mostly illiterate and cannot obtain regular jobs. I decided to help them hone the skills they already had and make a livelihood out of it. These are the women who were traditionally homebound and dependent on their father, brother, husband.
Their lives revolved around their families. Village weaves expanded their horizons and now they respectfully earn 200 rupees per day.” They are gradually freeing themselves from the grip of patriarchy as Rupjyoti has added a new dimension to their otherwise traditional lives.On demands for personalised orders from tourists she commented, “It is not a business, so we do not take orders from people. All that we intend to do is to manage plastic waste.”
On limitations and roadblocks in upscaling
“We continue to work on traditional looms as neither we can afford modern machines nor the women know how to work on them. This is the reason we work with only plastic bags, not plastic bottles or cups. Also, we don’t segregate plastic from garbage and mostly use the ones collected from the doorsteps of villagers. All that requires more labour, investment and technical know-how,” adds Rupjyoti. She is indeed a grassroots leader, single-handedly helping poor village women earn their livelihood, find freedom, save wildlife, and address the climate crisis through her venture.