Lessons for sustainable economy

A cooperative set up in Changlang district has helped 500 Tibetan families living in Miao to become self-reliant with help from the district administration, writes Prasanta Mazumdar

Published: 26th June 2022 08:44 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th June 2022 08:44 AM   |  A+A-

ARUNACHAL PRADESH: More than 60 years ago, Tenzin Rabjor’s grandfather Pema Sherab took the most arduous journey of his life from Pemakoe in Tibet. China had invaded Pema’s motherland. Then, under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama, Pema and their fellow Tibetans found a new home in India in the shadow of the Patkai hills in Arunachal Pradesh. After years of struggle, they weaved a success story. The Choephelling Tibetan Service Cooperative Society in the remote Miao subdivision of the country’s easternmost Changlang district has carved a niche for itself in skill building, and has laid the foundation for a sustainable economy.

The cooperative came into being in 1975 and registered under the Arunachal Pradesh Cooperative Societies Act in 1980. It has helped 500 Tibetan families in a population of around 2,600 in Miao, to become self-reliant. Each family earns around `1.5 lakh a year on an average.

Tenzin, the secretary of the cooperative, says after the Chinese aggression, his father S Norbu, who was then a six-year-old kid, grandfather Pema and others fleeing Tibetans were initially resettled at Misamari in Assam. Three years later, they were relocated to Changlang and then, to Miao in the early 1970s. “From 1959 to 1975, our people had faced a lot of hardships. The Central government had given them a plot of land in Changlang for resettlement but its topography was not suitable for agriculture. It’s a hilly region and they had shortage of food. There were issues with connectivity. The places were hardly accessible,” says Tenzin, who was born in India.

“The hardships continued in Miao. The turnaround came in 1990 with the grace of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the support of Central and Arunachal governments. Our lives are now stable,” he says. The cooperative was meant to make sure the settlers could eke out a living. The handicraft section is its main unit that produces wonderful handmade carpets among others. The raw materials are imported from Panipat in Haryana. Foreign raw materials are also used in carpet making. Tourists come from far-off places to see the Tibetan skills in craft. The customers can customize their designs.

The administration will launch a website for online marketing of carpets. The craft and weaving centre currently acts as a vital medium to transform the unemployed people into skilled weavers and helps preserve the centuries-old weaving traditions of the community. The cooperative has ventured into diverse fields of business. Its other units include a departmental store, a fitness centre, a hardware store, a cyber café, an electronics store, a hotel, a brick kiln, a mini bank etc. It is also into tea plantation and rents out tractors to farmers. It runs a library too.

The government had resettled these Tibetans on a plot of land measuring 2,000 acres. The cooperative runs 13 units from here and the hotel from Tinsukia in Assam. The society’s mini bank offers loans to the cooperative members for seasonal business, housing, farming etc. It mobilises their savings through savings accounts, recurring deposits and fixed deposits. On an average, it gives loans of `1.5 crore to 35-40 members annually.

Tenzin says the cooperative had started expanding since 2009. Previously, it had only four units, including the carpet-weaving section. “My son is the fourth generation of Tibetans in India. Almost every single Tibetan in Miao traces his/her roots to Pemakoe. The place is close to the international border,” he says.

The Tibetans in India are not eligible for government jobs. However, some 400 youth from the community in Miao are serving in the Special Frontier Force of the Indian Army, Tenzin says. Phurbu Tsering, a member of the cooperative, had purchased 20 shares of `100 each. He earns around `6,000 a year from this investment. He is also a team leader and draws a monthly salary of `12,000. A weaver says she earns `10,000-`12,000 a month.

Changlang Deputy Commissioner Sunny K Singh says the administration in coordination with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development is trying to obtain GI tag for the Miao carpets. “The old setup has been completely renovated with-new generation looms, ergonomics seating, smart lights, sound system and bay windows. The administration is imparting training to interested persons,” he says.


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