Having lost her husband to underground outfits in Manipur at a very young age, 36-year-old Domneilhing, a mother of five has been the sole bread earner of her house for six years now.
A traditional weaver based out of Churachandpur district of the north-eastern state, she specialises in what is called the Kuki motifs and with the support from city-based organisation Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI), she is currently exploring multiple markets for her products.
Offering a platform to women artisans like Domneilhing from the conflict ridden region, to showcase their skill and facilitate their survival, a new exhibition "Ima Keithel: Northeast India’s Mothers Weave Peace in Delhi" showcases design prototypes in weaving and bamboo produced by them.
The show that began here Monday evening is scheduled to go on till September 25.
"The event is a humble initiative to provide livelihood and acts as a healing touch to the fractured lives of women and children so that their lives can go on with a new found courage," organizers said.
"The focus of the programme is the economic empowerment of underprivileged and violence affected women through skill development."
The show is based on the popular concept of all women’s markets prevalent in Manipur. Locally known as "Ima Keithel" or "Mother’s Market," it is a space where women gather at different locations across the state to sell their products.
The number of participants in the markets often swell over 4000.
Organized by CAFI and Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, the exhibition which is underway at the India International Centre here also has a collection of exhibits produced by women of other north-eastern states like Assam, Nagaland, and Meghalaya besides Chittagong hill tracts in Bangladesh.
"We are first trained after which we make the prototype. We are given the layout for the motifs seeing which we reproduce the design," says 38-year-old Arambam Bijaya, who has been a single parent to her 10 year-old-son after her husband abandoned her.
Bijaya along with 100 other vulnerable women weavers have developed designs for a range of apparels in collaboration with the label ‘Rangsutra’ catering to the theme "The Bold and the Beautiful."
While Rangsutra provides these weavers with stitched fabric, they weave a variety of motifs, including traditional Manipuri ones onto them using handloom.
"Earlier we used to work with synthetic yarn, which was very easy. But, here we have to weave into cotton yarn which becomes quite difficult. Weaving the breadth of a motif design takes us atleast three days," Bijaya said.
The apparel collection on display includes ‘Enaphi,’ a traditional stole, ‘Phanek’ or a large sheet of fabric worn by women in Manipur in the form of a skirt by wrapping around the waist and ‘Leiroom,’ a hand woven scarf used in ceremonial occasions in Manipur.
A wide range of salwar kameez, dupattas, shirts and skirts richly embroidered with motifs can also be seen.
The motifs of Manipuri weaving are inspired by the traditional temple and floral designs of the state.
The primary explorations of temple designs are taken forward to develop the motifs. The flowers are designed in geometrical shapes to depict traditional technique in contemporary form.
The show also has an array of household materials made out of bamboo craft in collaboration with E’thaan Design studio.
"The programme works with two groups of women bamboo-cane artisans from Chandel and Imphal in Manipur, seeking to improve their livelihoods and income through improved production skills, design development and marketing inputs," organizers said.
Cheese platter, beer mug, tissue-holder, table lamp, tea coasters are part of the Bamboo Craft Range.
Currently all artisans are being remunerated with daily wages as per government’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act(MNREGA).
The organizers, however, are in the process of beginning sale of the products which would evidently increase the weavers’ incomes.
"We are planning to tie-up with some exhibition-cum-sale centres like ‘Dastakaar’ and ‘Rangsutra’ besides marketing online. We have just initiated and if some orders come, weavers are ready for production, although the costing and labour charges are yet to be finalised," they said.