The village of Bohikhuwa in the Bokakhat district of Assam is home to two communities. While half of the people in this village are Muslims, the rest of the people belong to the Mising community.
Here, an unlikely friendship between a Muslim girl, Buli, and a Mising girl blossomed. Tragedy struck when the Mising girl eloped with a Muslim man and Buli was slapped with charges of kidnapping. The Mising community of Bohikhuwa gheraoed the police station in Bokakhat demanding Buli’s arrest. Her friend called the police station numerous times, asking for her release and clarifying that she had fled of her free will. However, since no one came to claim Buli’s bail, she had to spend four months in the company of murderers, thieves, rapists and other criminals in the Golaghat jail.
By the time a non-profit organisation (NPO), the North East Social Trust (NEST), arranged for her release, Buli had already been in jail for almost five months. She was a changed woman – she had a haunted air about her and seemed ready to kill for her safety. It was in this condition that NEST found Buli.
The NEST has worked with women below the poverty line (BPL) in upper-Assam for almost a decade. Due to its project, Assam Capsule, in which they collaborated with Brooklyn-based handbag label Spencer Devine, women from various minority and BPL communities are now the sole breadwinners of their families.
The Assam Capsule project uses the one skill these women undoubtedly have: weaving. Traditional patterns from the region are woven onto recycled plastic and posh leather and sold in the international market. Buli is only one of the many women in the Assam Capsule project, who has been through a lot. She and the other women all deserve a greater say in their families and society.
These women, who used to beg some time back, are now supporting entire households by themselves. By earning an average of ₹3000 a month, and even ₹16000 per month in some cases, these women are fulfilling their long- cherished dreams.
These women are now sending their children to school, building a small house from their own money, cultivating their own rice (rather than buying it). Most importantly, they are being heard. Since it is their money that is running the households, they are having a greater say in the running and management of households.
The stories of these women should not only be admired. These stories are inspirations. From the widow Lakshi, who is sending her children to school while supporting her old mother, to Dipa Rovy, the illiterate woman who has an alcoholic husband, these women are the reason why their families are surviving.
Buli is also one of the weavers in the Assam Capsule project. Churning out bags at an inhuman speed, she is slowly returning to her natural frolicking self. She’s earning enough to support herself, her bedridden father, her illiterate mother and developmentally-challenged brother. Also, she now works with the Mising people from her village, almost daily.
Assam Capsule has received a lot of attention, both locally and internationally. Exhibitions at the Big Apple and articles in national newspapers aside, these bags starting in Bokakhat travel a huge distance and end up in Brooklyn. More importantly, they are also bridging an even greater social distance – the distance between a man and a woman in the society.