The Tharu people are the indigenous inhabitants of the south-western Terai, the southern foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and India. The land is fertile here and a large part of the region is covered with forests. The Tharus are known for their impressive craft skills. For centuries, they have been making traditional craft products, like their famous baskets made out of Elephant Grass which is also called Sikki. It is a type of grass of golden colour which is grown in the wet and marshy area around rivers and ponds in the Terai region of Farwest Nepal.
Although the Tharus have been making beautiful utility products for centuries, they are aware of the choice of the customers.There is a range of new products designed to meet the demand of the market with respect to the traditional designs and shapes. The variety of product ranges from the traditional baskets to modern mobile cases.
Making Sikki baskets is usually a women’s craft. Young girls learn to make Sikki craft from their grandmothers or mothers because it is a very old craft of this area and the majority of the old-aged ladies know how to make Sikki craft.
Tharu Women Network
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 its business plans and efforts. The following are the excerpts of the interview with Mrs. Mahatau:
“The Tharu Women Network supports members in buying handicraft materials and selling the products”
– RAJ KUMARI MAHATAU
Tourism Development Society (TDS): Could you please tell us about your 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 chance to find a job. During that difficult time, the idea to create our women network in the form of a cooperative, saving organization was born. The first group members knew each other personally, and 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: Every group member can take a loan for 6 months. The minimum amount of loan is NPR 70,000.00. Many of the women in our group are the wives of rikshaw pullers, and with the loan, the families were able to start small business. For example, three families opened small shops with the help of loans. One family has a small chicken farm. Some members use the loan to renovate their houses. Some people take a loan for purchasing some tools for farming.
TDS: How does handicraft development contribute to the group?
Raj Kumari: There are 10 women out of our 30 members, who are involved in handicraft and knitting trade to support their families. The Network supports them in buying materials and selling the products. Usually, 10% from each product sold contributes to the group’s fund.
TDS: How do the future plans of the TWN look like in terms of handicraft development?
Raj Kumari: We are thinking 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, and we want to try using natural dyes, actually exactly the way our mothers and grandmothers did. We want to preserve these traditions!
We have been informed that that the Far-West region is going to have a stall at the Fair Trade Christmas Market in November, in Kathmandu, and we are sending our products there for exhibition. In December, we are participating at the Big Fair in Dhangadhi.