NEN, the group responsible in empowering women of this Naga village by conforming to sustainable & environment friendly practices.
In today’s time there is very little importance attached for traditional methods of living and agricultural practices. All over the world, over 370 million people from indigenous tribes are struggling to preserve their traditional ways.
Amidst all these struggles, one Nagaland village known as Chizami in Phek district, shines out for championing the cause of Women’s right. It is a village that supports sustainable livelihood restoring traditional agricultural practices.
Chizami, a small village in Phek district, has implemented socio-economic reforms and environmental protection for over a decade and is now a model village in the state.
The credit of this impossible task should be given to Monisha Behal, a women’s right activist and the founder of the North East Network (NEN). She first stepped in Nagaland in 1994, with the mission to improve women health condition.
The story begins in 1996, while conducting a workshop in Pfutsero, she met Seno who was a teacher at a government primary school & representative of the Chizami Women’s Society (CWS) in Sumi, a village next to Chizami.
Their shared interest opened up the Nagaland chapter for NEN.
They started with health, sanitation, nutrition, and then expanded their work to other areas too. The timing of the mission was critical as Nagaland was emerging from a sixty-year conflict, hence it was impetus to empower and bring the youth together for an effective change.
NEN in collaboration with CWS, began with traditional skill development programmes such as bamboo craft, food processing, organic farming, rooftop water harvesting, along with discussions on governance, women empowerment, and human rights issues.
The journey took eight long years, and Seno managed to convince the village council that women deserved equal pay as men in agricultural labour.
In January 2014, the landmark resolution of equal pay in farm labour was passed, along with electing two women in the Enhulumi village council.
Weaving since ages has been part of every Naga household, but due to lack of funding and feasibility it has been on the decline. NEN took up to this cause and in 2008 Chizami Weaves was born, which started with just seven weavers and now has grown to over 300 weaver from adjacent villages in the Phek district also joining hands.
Help has reached these wonderful women weavers from various parts of India like Mumbai & Delhi. Experts are helping them to develop new products and introduce new colours in their fabrics & they have also managed to move beyond weaving shawls to table runners, cushion covers, bags, mufflers and much more.
In effort to preserve the traditional methods of weaving the Chizami Weavers promotes textiles made by loin loom or the backstrap loom.
Apart from weaving these weavers are also making their presence felt by raising dialogues about public health, women’s rights, environment and other important topics.
Apart from conforming to traditional method of weaving NEN is also reviving traditional farming practices like millet-based biodiverse agriculture. These crops are much more suitable for this climate conditions as they are more resilient along with hoards of health benefits. Approximately 150 farmers from eight villages now practice millet-based farming.
To boost traditional agricultural practices Alder trees have been planted along with traditional Naga leafy vegetables. To enhance the importance of millets the female farmers they’ve revived Ethsuunye, a five-day millet festival.
In recognition of their efforts, both NEN and CWS were awarded Stree Shakti Puraskar in 2005, 2006, and 2007 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development for “dedicated and selfless work in the field of women development and empowerment in the face of extreme difficulties and challenges”.
Chizami Za (Chizami Day) was first celebrated on 8 January 2015, to preserve the past, embrace the present & inspire the future.
The race towards modernity is the reason we leave behind the more sustainable traditional methods. Chizami stands out as an example which ended the stereotype and embraced traditions.
The efforts of groups like NEN & CWS is extremely important in not only providing means for the marginalised women but also save the environment from the wrath of modernity. One can hope and wish that their work spreads across various lands of India.
However, the knowledge of the ages gained by such tribes, their customs and culture, have an equal place in this world and do not deserve to be considered ‘primitive’.
The work of groups like NEN go a long way in proving this, and one hopes their work spreads far and wide.
Let’s all consciously #EndTheStereotype