The Tharu people are the indigenous inhabitants of south-western Terai. The flatland Terai is located at the southern foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and India. A large part of the Terai is covered by forests and the land is very fertile. The Tharus are known for their impressing crafting skills. For many centuries, they have been making traditional products, like their famous baskets made out of Elephant grass, which are also called ‘Sikki’. The grass is golden colored and grows in the wet and marshy areas, around rivers and ponds in the region of Far West Nepal.
For centuries, the Tharus have produced beautiful functional objects and thus, know what customers want. There are a number of new products. The Tharus respond to the demand of the market, whilst maintaing the original design of their products. The variety of products ranges from traditional baskets to modern smartphone cases. Sikki baskets are a women’s handicraft. Young girls learn from their mothers and grandmothers how this old craft is made.
Tharu Women Network
“The Tharu Women Network supports members in buying handicraft materials and selling the products”
– RAJ KUMARI MAHATAU–
Nowadays, many Tharu women are engaged in handicrafts and some are members of collaborative networks, such as the Tharu Women Network (TWN), based in Dhangadhi. Recently we spoke to Raj Kumari Mahatau, the representative of TWN, about the history of the Network and his business plans and efforts. The following are the excerpts of the interview with Mrs. Mahatau:
Tourism Development Society (TDS): Could you please tell us about Tharu Women Network; how it got started?
Raj Kumari: It started during the time of Maoist insurgency, when many people from the villages were trying to move to Dhangadhi, closer to the big markets where they had better chances to find a job. During that difficult time the idea was born, create our women network in the form of a cooperative saving organization. The first group members get to knew each other before personally, we were just 5 or 6 people then. Today, our Tharu Women Network has 30 women members and we have around NPR 300,000.00 as rotating fund annually.
TDS: How does TWN work with the rotating fund? Who can take a loan?
Raj Kumari: Each group member can take a 6-month loan. The minimum amount of the loan is NPR 70,000.00. Many of the women in our group are the women of Rikshaw drivers. With the loan, the families were able to found small businesses. For example, three families have opened small stores with the help of loans. A family has established a small chicken farm and some members use the loan to renovate their homes or others take a loan for buying some farming tools.
TDS: How does handicraft development contribute to the group?
Raj Kumari: There are 10 women of our 30 members, who are involving in handicraft and knitting trade to support their families. The Network supports them in buying materials and selling the products. Usually, 10% from each sold product, contributes something to the group’s fund.
TDS: How do the future plans of the TWN look like, in terms of handicraft development?
Raj Kumari: We think about of diversifying the handicraft products to offer more variety in shape and size. Sometimes people, especially the foreigners, ask us about the dyes we use, we want to use natural dyes! Exactly the way like our mothers and grandmothers did. We want to preserve these traditions! We plan that the Far West region is going to have a stand at the Fair Trade Christmas Market in November in Kathmandu and present our products there to exhibite. In December, we are participating at the Big Fair in Dhangadhi.