The total value of the Pashmina after being woven into shawls and other finished products is Rs. 200 Crores. The contribution of Pashmina to the local economy through direct sale of raw cashmere is estimated to be 10-12 crores and that of wool to be 2.50 crores. On average, a goat rearing family’s annual income from their flocks of pashmina is Rs. 18,902 approximately. The other considerable factor is the extremely labor intensive nature of the occupation which entails grazing the flocks over large distances, tending to the sick in very harsh conditions. individuals - Dr. Tundup Namgyal, Dr. Iftikhar Hussein, Dr. Niyaz-ul-Hassanain, Shri Tatpar Joldan, Shri Jigmet Namgyal, Tsewang Dorjay, Tashi Paldan, to name a few - who also appreciated this idea of creating such model
Spinning and weaving have always been part of the skill set of most rural Ladakhi women. It is passed from one generation to the other. Despite having access to high value raw materials, spinning and weaving have generally not been considered as income generating activities. The hand-knit apparels or fabrics that are woven by the rural women are generally for self consumption or at the most for irregular sale to any tourist that happens to visit the particular village. For these reasons the activities lacked the finesse and other attributes necessary for commercial endeavour.
There have been efforts in the past by government and non-government agencies to impart relevant skills to rural unemployed women in Ladakh. Though laudable, the efforts did not result in any notable and/or regular enhancement in the income earned by the women involved. The most important reasons observed were lack of financial linkages, organization of the production processes, managerial and planning abilities. This has created groups of women who are incompletely organized, if at all, localized and most importantly irregular in their production and marketing activities. Hence, ‘Project Laktsal’ was conceptualized as an attempt to explore and realize the income generating potential of value addition to pashmina and other fibres by creating an organized workforce to realize the economies of scale. This project also seeks to create a successful example of empowering women through simple solutions by tapping into their innate potentials and spirit. Project Laktsal also aims to check migration.
The village of Kharnak does not exist anymore, not in any real sense anyways. Its residents migrated from the vastness of Changthang to the suburbs of Leh not so long back where it has assumed its new form, Kharnakling. Kharnak is just a dramatic manifestation of a phenomenon underway in Ladakh in recent times due to the onslaught of modernity. Individuals, families and societies are abandoning their age old ways of life and occupations to migrate to Leh and other urban areas. Both push and pull factors are responsible for this migration and the pull more often turns out to be a mirage. The lack of income earning opportunities commensurate with the modern expectations and comforts is a real push factor driving these communities which now inhabit the outskirts of Leh in localities like Skampari and Choglamsar. But the real threat is the potential loss of a way of life and over burden on the urban infrastructure of Leh.
To create a self reliant organization out of a motley group of rural women required the coming together of various agencies, to leave no aspect unaddressed. Skill enhancement, product innovation, design development, managerial and entrepreneurial training, exposure visit of women to exhibitions, artisan clusters in other states, infrastructure building at cluster level and organization building was planned and implemented under Project Laktsal to create the brand Looms of Ladakh. To ensure that Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative develops into an independent source of income for its members, assets were created alongside the training. A suitable space was earmarked and developed for creating a retail outlet for the products of the cooperative and a rent agreement drawn on nominal terms to ensure stability. The retail outlet, which is situated in the heart of Leh town, is the main source of income to the women through sales. E-commerce partnerships and exhibitions are also being worked out.
Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative also envisions the welfare of its members. A fund has been created by the cooperative, into which a certain percentage of the monthly sales income is to be transferred. This fund is supposed to provide a basic safety net for the purposes of meeting unforeseen health and children’s educational expenses of the members. Furthermore, steps are being taken to enroll the women members of the Looms of Ladakh with the Government of India’s ‘Handloom Weavers Comprehensive Welfare Scheme’, which has two components, Health Insurance Scheme and the Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima Yojana.
Project Laktsal was started with the intention of giving the rural women of Leh, especially Changthang, a viable and sustainable source of earning income through resources available naturally and locally. With Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative we now plan development of artisan clusters where reputed designers can work on trendsetting cashmere, yak and sheep wool apparels and fabrics, providing recognition and remuneration to the skilled rural Ladakhi women who can supply the major markets of the world with genuine, handmade and ethically produced products. Towards this end, there has been tremendous progress. The challenges encountered in the conception and implementation stages of the project were overcome with much fortitude and diligence. There are many challenges in the path of consolidating the gains made and sustaining the success, but the attitude of the women involved with the project gives us hope.
G. Prasanna Ramaswamy IAS & Abhilasha Bahuguna
On one of his district tours to Chumur, Deputy Commissioner of Leh, G. Prasanna Ramaswamy IAS, noticed the women knitting beautiful garments for their family. This was when this idea stuck him to hone the women’s innate skills along with introducing weaving, so that they make marketable products. His wife Abhilasha Bahuguna and him had also discussed promoting pashmina products during courtship when on many of their exhibition visits they were surprised on not finding Changthang Ladakh pashmina sellers when it is the source region. Everybody else was selling pashmina. In another instance they found a western Indian state emporium selling a pashmina shawl which was not genuine. Everybody was using the cooked up marketing tactic of fabled pashmina shawl that can pass through a ring when genuine pashmina can not pass through a ring. So they strategised and worked together on Project Laksal to create the brand Looms of Ladakh. Other like minded officers and individuals - Dr. Tundup Namgyal, Dr. Iftikhar Hussein, Dr. Niyaz-ul-Hassanain, Shri Tatpar Joldan, Shri Jigmet Namgyal, Tsewang Dorjay, Tashi Paldan, to name a few - who also appreciated this idea of creating such model