India: Tibetan weaver Sonam Tsomo makes comeback in Arunachal Pradesh, revives traditional art

After joining the carpet facility three decades ago, Sonam Tsomo, a 50-year-old Tibetan weaver, has made a comeback in her life at the Tibetan settlement in the Changlang area of Arunachal Pradesh.

Arunachal Pardesh, India: After joining the carpet facility three decades ago, Sonam Tsomo, a 50-year-old Tibetan weaver, has made a comeback in her life at the Tibetan settlement in the Changlang area of Arunachal Pradesh.

The community is now Tsomo and many of her friends’ home, where they weave dreams on their looms.

The foundation of the 500 or so Tibetan refugee families that fled Tibet with the 14th Dalai Lama after the Chinese invasion in 1959 is the carpet centre at Choephelling Tibetan Refugee Camp.

The atmosphere of the unit, with music wafting through the air, frequently in time with the movement of the weavers’ hands and fingers, is a sight to behold for a first-time visitor to the carpet centre.

Since the Choephelling Cooperative Society was founded in 1975 by Tibetan refugees outside of Miao, the administrative centre of the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh, floor and wall carpets have been its distinctive selling point.

The locals are renowned for making top-notch wool carpets that are also exported. The centre claims to have three embossers and 30 experienced women weavers.

It has been a wonderful experience for me to work in this craft centre since 1990. More than a hundred Tibetans have jobs thanks to the centre, according to Tsomo.

Another weaver, Sherab Sangmo, 47, who joined the centre in 1999, believed that it had improved her life since she could now financially support her family.

“The craft’s talent has altered my life. I was jobless prior to entering the centre and was looking for employment to help support my parents financially. But now I can help them,” Sangmo continued.

One of the 14 businesses operated by the Choephelling Cooperative Society, which spans 2,000 acres and has about 2,000 shareholders, is carpet weaving. The community is self-sufficient and manages practically everything, including farming and a tiny tea garden within the hamlet.

The carpet unit provides the majority of society’s income. In addition, it manages a hotel in Tinsukia, Assam, according to Tenzin Rabjor, the cooperative society’s secretary.

“We have a total of 14 units in the cooperative society, three of which are welfare units, including a library, a fitness centre, and an agro mill for processing paddy. Additionally, we have a tiny bank where we collect money from the members,” said Rabjor.

“The society also offers members long- and short-term loans with interest rates ranging from 8.5 to 9% annually for projects like building homes or investing in tractors or taxis,” the secretary continued.

In addition to operating an Amul dealership, the cooperative organisation also operates a retail store, an electronics store, and a hardware store. In addition to a construction firm to carry out small construction activities within Miao town, it also has a brick manufacturing facility and a mechanical workshop for vehicle maintenance.

After more than 40 years, productivity began to decline, and society was struggling to maintain it as the carpet unit’s wooden looms were disintegrating and the weavers’ eyesight was being negatively impacted by a subpar lighting system.

However, as the Changlang district administration started an initiative to renovate the carpet-weaving centre last year, the situation changed.

“The old looms couldn’t be adjusted for varied carpet sizes. Additionally, while working on a carpet, the weavers had to bend over, sit on a small wooden block, and stand at various times.

“We eliminated bending and standing by replacing the outdated looms with 30 adjustable third-generation metal looms and installing ergonomic seats with four different height settings. For enhanced illumination, the interiors were renovated with serene ceiling lights,” mentioned Changlang Deputy Commissioner Sunny K Singh.

For the benefit of the weavers’ pleasure, the district administration also erected a music system in the centre that plays a variety of Tibetan and mainstream tunes.

“The central and state governments have provided adequate facilities to the settlers, including school, health, drinking water, road communication, and rice under the public distribution system,” Rabjor stated.

There are two medical facilities in the community. Operated by medical professionals from the Tibetan community, one primary health centre and one Tibetan medical and astrological section.

According to the settlement’s secretary, classes IV through VIII were taught in English, while classes I through V were taught in Tibetan.

“The centre produces two types of carpets, 48 and 80 knots, with various Tibetan motifs, which are being sold at prices ranging from Rs 12,000 (small) to Rs 66,000 (big),” Rabjor said, adding that the carpets are woven with New Zealand wool and purchased from Haryana.

The typical monthly wage for weavers ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000, depending on their rate of production and daily workload. They receive a per-foot payment.

The majority of the products are sold locally, with 30 to 40 percent going to other towns within the nation and internationally.

Along with supporting the society’s infrastructure, the district administration has partnered with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development to expedite the GI tag application process for the society’s “Miao Carpets” product line.

George Henry

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