Baktawng village located towards the south of Mizoram has earned its name within Mizoram and neighbouring states because of its skills in wood carpentry and pottery making. The village is situated 70 Kms from the state capital Aizawl and is 30 Kms from its district HQ Serchhip.
The remarkable history of Baktawng village can be traced way back when the kingship in Mizoram still existed. There was one ruler name Vanhnuailiana who, like any other Mizo ruler of that time gave freedom to his son Dothuaia to set up his own kingdom with full autonomy and the place selected by his son to set up his kingdom was Baktawng. At that time Baktawng was covered with dense jungle and it was largely inhabited by tigers ( Bak in the old mizo language means tiger) and since these beasts used to often come face to face with the hunters in the jungle, when the new kingdom was set up, the village was named ‘Baktawng’ literally meaning ‘facing the tiger’.
One of the fascinating truths about Baktawng village is the presence of a sect known as ‘Lalpa Kohhor ‘and the people were followers of a leader named Pu Chana’. Initially the group was founded by two brothers Pu Challianchana popularly known as Pu Chana (father of the present leader Pu Ziaona) & Pu Khuangtuahin in the year 1942. At the initial stage there were only 20-30 followers, and it was in the year 1955 when one of the founder Pu Khuangtuah passed away that Pu Chana became the only leader as well as religious priest of this sect. People all over from Mizoram who had failth in the belief of this sect moved to Baktawng and at present there are about 320 family practicing this belief and residing in a seperate locality of Baktawng known as ‘Tlangnuam veng (veng means locality in Mizo)’. In 1997 Pu Chana passed away and after this all the power & prestige was handed over to his eldest son Pu Ziona.Pawl’. Owing to the name of their leader, this sect is at present known as ‘Pu Ziona Pawl’ or the follower of ‘PuZion.’
|Pu Ziona’s family.|
Pu Zion’s family with a total of 181 members may be one of the largest families in the world living together under one roof. The head of the family and leader of the ‘Pu Ziona Pawl’, is the 66-year-old Ziona, who has 39 wives, 94 children and 14 daughter-in-laws and 33 grandchildren. Some of his sons who have married and have their own children also live together in the same building with a separate attachment named, ‘Chhuan Thar Run’ or ‘the House of The New Generation’. Although the sons of Pu Zion live in different rooms in the building, they all share the same kitchen where food is cooked for the entire family. This big family has attracted the attention of the world where journalist/ media person as far as from Delhi to Korea, Japan & Great Britain have come to visit Baktawng.
Right from the time of Pu Chana the followers of this sect have been known for their hardwork, dedication, honesty, loyalty to their God/ leader and practicing love and empathy for one another. For them hardwork is one of the most important ways of worshiping God. The sect till today celebrates the ‘Bawkte Kut’ or the ‘Festival of the Hut’ on June 12 every year to commemorate the formal formation of the sect.
The followers of this sect even today contribute one-tenth of their monthly earning to their leader who in turn use it for developing the community.
One of the main economic activities of the Baktawng is Carpentry. Carpentry related works can be traced back to early 1970’s when one of the loyal followers of ‘Pu Chana pawl’ initiated carpentry activities in the village. This initiative was taken up because of unstable political condition and grim economic condition of the village. The Carpentry business had to overcome a number of initial challenges including getting a market for the products and it was after eight years in the year 1978 that the followers of ‘Pu Chana pawl’ started taking carpentry as their main livelihood. Very soon they came to be known all over Mizoram for their fine carpentry works and at present their products are even marketed to neighboring states like Manipur and Silchar in Assam. It was in the year 2009 that in the process capacity of identifying and handholding clusters in various pockets of North Eastern Region that the RRC on Cluster Development of IIE got an opportunity to be involved with the Baktwang wood carpentry cluster. Having adopted the cluster, it was a very big challenge to address the issues identified for intervention. Initially the focus was on understanding their culture creating awareness to work in a group and sensitizing them on various issues including personal development, developing a perspective to look at the world outside their community and village, managing finance and managing personal health and hygiene. Gradually the realization sunk in that inspite of being in business no one had a bank account and they were very averse to taking loan and they were not at all exposed to the world outside their village.
The following were some of the initial challenges:
- Lack of co-operation amongst the carpentry units.
- Marketing process was not well organized and
- The design and quality of the products from the units were not suitable for external market.
- Infrastructure facilities in the units were not well developed.
- Outdated technologies and machineries were in use in almost all the units.
- There was lack of Social Awareness
- Lack of exposure
While initiating work in the cluster, a Network Development Agent (NDA) was appointed and the primary responsibility of the NDA was to network with different departments and various stakeholders and to facilitate group activities at the grass root levels. Since the NDA is the key person around whom the entire development of the cluster revolves, in order to create goodwill, the strategy adopted while selecting the NDA was that the NDA was identified and nominated by the artisans themselves. The primary responsibility of the NDA was of creating awareness and building trust amongst the artisans. In the initial awareness programmes that were carried out in the cluster, when most artisans were hesitant to attend and participate in that programmes and it was realized that door to door visits to all households was necessary. Informal interactions and group meetings became a routine affair and there were times when technical experts were also taken for door to door visits. Gradually some artisans started opening up and participated in the awareness camps and the social mobilisation process gradually became highly interactive and saw good participation of artisans.
The support of Pu Ziona Pawl further strengthened the process of confidence building & good will creation. When the representative of the implementing agency met Mr. Pu Ziona Pawl he was very receptive and understood the possible positive implications of the initiatives. He advised the artisans to cooperate and one of his son- in-law played a vital role in mobilizing support.
Unlike other clusters, the artisans from Baktwang wood carpentry cluster had very limited exposure to any government intervention and it was Mr Pu Ziona Pawl who acted as an economic and spiritual leader. Once the confidence of the artisans was increased, they became quite receptive and the initial suspision and skepticism that is normally found amongst artisans of most of the clusters was much lesser in case of Baktwang cluster.
After the initial trust building, the interventions in the cluster started with efforts to converge with various schemes of different departments of the government. Different government departments including the Directorate of Industries Govt. of Mizoram, DIC Serchip district, Office of Deputy Commissioner Serchip district were approached for availing their schemes for the artisans. Next initiative was to create awareness on banking/credit facilities and helping the artisans avail bank loans to take their business forward. Not to speak of availing bank finance, initially the artisans did not even have a bank account. Interestingly, the number of college graduates in Baktwang even today is less than 100. Almost all the artisans were apprehensive and aversive to take up bank loans. This was primarily because of some initiative taken up by the Govt. of Mizoram for coffee plantation in Baktwang where the people had a lot of expectations and nothing much had materialised. Moreover the awareness on availing formal credit was also very limited. During the period 2008-09, the only bank branch in that area was the branch of Mizoram Rural Bank and to reach to that branch itself took at least 30 minutes. Through necessary coordination with the SBI and MRB, bankers meet was organised for the first time in Baktwang and with positive assurances from these banks, it was possible to get the confidence of the artisans and they started opening individual and group accounts and gradually the habit of saving could be inculcated amongst the artisans.
However, an amazing fact about this cluster is that over the years, inspite of their outdated tools and machines they have been able to command a major portion of the market share on doors, windows and other household furnitures in Mizoram. An interesting phenomenon in this cluster is that both adult men and women share the workload in the wood carpentry work and this is something that is not so often seen in other parts of India.
There are at present around hundred household units involved in carpentry work and gradually it could be observed that the artisans opened up and few educated and enlightened youth realized the need to look at the world outside. Three participants from Baktwang carpentry cluster were sent for a exposure visit Thoubal carpentry cluster, Manipur. The visit to the Thoubal wood carpentry cluster was very helpful for the artisans. The artisans were very impressed by seeing a very well maintained CFC with generator facility and they came across some of the machines like Jig Saw machine, which is used for curving & circular designs and understood the utility of these machines. Lathe machine which is so very important in carpentry work was not used before in Baktwang. Seeing the functioning of the CFC, the artisans understood the need for group approach & the advantages of having a common working platform. In order to further sensitize the artisans, another exposure trip for few selected artisans to Saharanpur was taken up. The Saharanpur trip became an eye-opener for them. Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh is an established carpentry cluster known for its exquisite designs and finish. It was in the year 2010 that ten artisans from Baktwang were selectecd for an exposure visit to Saharanpur. When these ten artisans from Baktwang visited Saharanpur it was both a cultural and professional shock for them. At the time of visit they were surprised to see the extreme good quality of finished products at Saharanpur. The team also realised the smart use of the waste materials. Instead of throwing or burning the small waste wood pieces, they understood that it can be used to make small gift items and souvenirs, which was a common practice in Shaharanpur. The artisans from Baktwang saw the extreme hard work and poor economic condition of artisans from Saharanpur and also got exposed the intricate designs and hand tools used by them.
It was a two way cultural shock. Because of the attire and attitude of the artisans from Mizoram, the artisans from Saharanpur found it hard to believe that they were also artisans like them. The climatic condition of Saharanpur and the difference in food habits initially made it very difficult for the Mizo artisans to cope but very soon the common interest ie- woodwork easily bound them together. Inspite of communication problems, the language of carpentry work facilitated interaction. The Baktwang artisans started working with them, experimenting with various tools and machines and also bought a number of hand tools which they could use back in Baktwang.
Seeing the wood curving and semi-knocked down furniture of Saharanpur the artisans from Baktwang understood the market demand and the possibilities. Back in Baktwang when they came and shared the experiences, more and more people became open to the idea of change and the need to commercialise. Ten artisans were next sent for a month’s training under a master craftsman at Saharanpur. These artisans are now training others in Baktwang and they have started making smaller objects like ashtray, tray, photo frames, decorative items etc. The realization gradually set in that by making value added products, their earnings go up. From a stage when no one had a bank account, today around eighty artisans have opened bank accounts with SBI and Mizoram Rural Bank and are ready to take bank loans. They are now eagerly waiting for the Common Facility Centre (CFC) which they propose to run through their Cooperative society which has membership of 356 artisans. Strong realization has set in that they need to cooperate and compete for a larger market through value added products.
With the intention of upskilling and covering more and more artisans, a number of Entrepreneurship cum Skill Development Programmes (ESDPs) on wood carving and design upgradation was organized in the cluster. The impact of these training programmes was that new units have come up and these units started concentrating only on curving. Through 4 nos of ESDP about 120 artisans were provided training. Simultaneously, under the design clinic scheme of the Ministry of MSME, a designer from National Institute of Design (NID) took up a Interactive Design Study, which helped the cluster artisans in embodying new ideas about designing and also made brought out the creativity in them trough production of new and smaller items such as ashtray, decorative household items etc which were not produced earlier in the cluster.
The number of skill development trainings conducted at the cluster specifically with regard to curving designs, diversification of carpentry products and design clinic by technical experts and designers from NID has immensely helped the cluster artisans to change the age long stagnant production techniques and diversify carpentry products in the cluster.
The artisans have not only learnt new designs but have also developed range of products which are smaller in size can be made with modular parts and can be created out of the waste cut pieces of wood and compressed boards. They have also learnt the material fusing technique as surface treatment. The artisans are now more open to accepting change and creative ideas and are realizing the need for product development and design.
The main products of the Baktawng cluster are Door panels, Ventilation frame, Table, Dining table, Bed, Cup Board, Rallying and Door/window frames. The door panel accounts for the highest percentage (23%) in the total sale volume followed by the table (21%) and door/ window frames (19%) respectively. The entire products of the clusters are order based. There is no gap between production and sale volume of the products.
Raw materials are available all throughout the year. Raw materials are supplied to the cluster artisans by local traders from various parts of Mizoram and there are 35 registered timber suppliers from where the units used to procure the raw material.
Out of total 105 household units in the clusters, there are around 35 units where the average monthly income is around Rs. 30,000.00. For the rest 70 units, the average monthly income is around Rs. 20,000.00. The annual turnover of the cluster is 3,15,00,000.00. There has been a 30% increase in turnover of the cluster within a span of 3 years. The market is opening up and with the CFC coming up there could be endless possibilities for the artisans.
To take forward the dream of establishing a CFC, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) was formed by activating the existing Backtwang Carpentry Industrial Cooperative Society. The key functionaries of the SPV are the Chairman, the Vice-chairman, the Secretary, the Treasurer and other three Board Members. They are elected annually by the members of the Society. Shri Lalngaihsanga is the present Chairman of the Society. At present the total number of active artisans is 355 and out of this 174 have individual or group bank accounts. The society in interaction with other stakeholders has come up with common guidelines for the clusters. Presently the key members of the society take huge responsibility for all activities of the cluster.
The baktwang carpentry cluster today consists of 105 household units as compared to the earlier records of 60 household units. ESDPs and credit linkage programs conducted in the cluster created ample opportunities for most of the artisans who used to earlier work as daily wage labourers in other carpentry units. Within a short period after the programme has been implemented the number of artisans has increased from 335 at the initial stage to 400 today.
Success stories of Artisans
Isreal Dingliana was born in the year 1982 to Mr. Parliana and Mrs. Thlengliani who originally halted from Baktawng Village of Mesaani. He was the third of nine children and in those days the entire family was residing in the main house of Pu Ziona. Isreal Dingliana’s childhood was somewhat easy; he completed his 10th standard at the Chhuanthar School of Baktawng village. However he was introduced to carpentry works from an early age and like every other male member of the community, was expected to take up carpentry as his profession.
His early childhood was mostly spent in helping the elders in carpentry works. His father owned a carpentry unit and he along with other members of the family were engaged in it. Most of the time he worked under the supervision of other elders of the household. Besides carpentry, he is also an expert in making aluminium pans and pottery. Pre marriage he did not take up much responsibility but after marriage to Ms. Lalhmangaihi, he had to earn to feed his family.
At the initial stage he worked at his uncle’s (Mr. Zama) unit as a daily wage helper, earning around Rs 180- Rs 300 per day depending on the nature of the work. He always wanted to set up his own unit where he cauld be his own master. With the help o Mr. Zama, Isreal set up his own unit in the year 2005. Like all other budding artisans of Baktawng, he too faced many problems at the initial stage such as shortage of electricity, lack of well equipped modern machines, lack of knowledge about designing etc.
Through the cluster intervention process of IIE Mr. Isreal underwent a skill development training at Saharanpur for a month and also the skill development programme on wood curving held at Baktawng. Besides these training programmes, he also attended seminars and workshops conducted by NID under Design Clinic Scheme. Through these programmes he became well aware of new designs, skills and ideas which has benefitted his units tremendously and helped them in doing well during the past three years. Mr. Isreal Dingliana has also got exposure by participating cluster conclaves being organized by IIE.
At present he heads his unit, C.T.R. Wood & Steel Works with nine employees working under him. Besides these artisans, he also hires daily wage labours. Mr. Isreal is dreaming of extending his market reach to each and every part of Mizoram and to the neighbouring states.
His unit produces a variety of products like window and door frames, different kinds of furniture such as cupboard, dining table, sofa set, wooden step railing, decorative items, bed etc.
Without any loan and without a bank account his monthlyearning ranges between Rs. 35,000/- to Rs. 45,000/-.
Mr. Lalngaihawma, one of the most successful artisans of the cluster inherited his carpentry unit from his forefathers. Mr. Lalngaihawma was born in the year 1979 and is the oldest amongst his four brothers. His parents Mr. Lalchhawna and Mrs. Ramthangi are original inhabitants of Tlangnuam, Baktawng and his grandfather had started carpentry way back in 1950s when carpentry as a business was first started in Baktawng. During that period livelihood options were limited and carpentry was found to be the best source to earn livelihood so as to meet their daily needs.
Mr. Lalngaihawma, after completing his 10th standard, took up carpentry since that was the practice amongst young men from Baktwang. Right from the beginning he was interested in carpentry and initially started working with his brother at their father’s unit.
It was in the year 2011 that he set up his own unit. Initially he faced a lot of challenges while setting up the unit. The first problem was to get a loan. There were no banks in his nearby areas or in the nearby villages so he had to go as far as to Serchhip or Aizawl for dealing with banks. But as he was just another simple villager from a remote village the bankers did not trust him and said that the bank might face problem later on. After repeated refusal from them, Mr. Lalngaihawma sought help from his parents and with their help set up his own unit. Till date, he has not taken loan from any financial institution.
His other challenge was in the form of lack of good machinery. In his new unit, he did not have any big machines such as Bendsaw, Circular Wood Cutting machines and the smaller machines that he had were second hand purchased at cheaper rate from other carpenters and hence not of very good quality. He frequently borrowed these machines from his father and other carpenters and sometimes he has to hire big wood cutting machines from other carpenters at high cost. All these challenges were overcome with the help of support from his parents and relatives in and around Baktawng. Also his dedication and hard work enabled him to become one of the most successful artisans in the cluster. At present Mr. Lalngaihawma is the successful owner of L.C Furnitures work and has five other employees working under him.
Earlier his unit was engaged only in making wooden windows and door frames. Although, his unit sold products to all partsof Mizoram yet the product diversity was less.. After the cluster development was initiated Mr. Lalngaihawma was one of the artisans of the cluster who had gone as part of an exposure visit to Saharanpur. The visit made him realize the need to diversify products of his units and he has learned that smaller and leftover small wooden pieces could be made useful by making small wooden items such as decorative bowls, ashtrays, photo frames etc. After the programme, his unit has begun producing wooden furniture such as sofa sets, dining tables & chairs, cupboard, bed etc.
Having now learnt the art of wood curving, he has been able to increase the price of his products thus earning a huge surplus from his unit. Also being one of the most experienced artisans in the cluster he is qualified to give trainings to younger artisans. Earlier the monthly income of Mr. Lalngaihawma was around Rs 20,000/. After the initiation of the Cluster development programme he is now earning approximately Rs 40,000 per month. Mr Lalngaihawma perhaps is the only artisan in the cluster who owns a two storied concrete house. His success story is a result of the inputs of the Cluster development programme and his own efforts and is an inspiration for many.
Mr. Rammawia was born in the year 1960 at Hmawngkawn Village and his parents were earlier settlers of Hmawngkawn village who had moved to Baktawng during the early 1950’s during the re-grouping of Baktawng village. His parents were simple land cultivators earning a meager income for looking after the family.
Mr. Rammwia being the eldest of the eight children of his parents had many responsibilities of looking after the family since his childhood. He would often help his parents by working as helper in carpentry workshops of other artisans. He completed his education till 8th standard at Chhuanthar School in Baktwang. His decision to quit school was also mainly because he wanted to devote full time in carpentry work so as to help his parents to run the family. By the age of sixteen, he was already a skilled artisans and worked as a daily wage labourer earning Rs 30- 50.
Rammawia always dreamt of setting up his own unit and finally in 1981 he set up R.M. Carpenetry Works with some help from his in laws. At the initial stage, his unit did not earn much and he would look around for carpentry work from other artisans. He helped other artisans in finishing their products using some hand tools which was sufficient for the work. His younger brothers helped him in his unit whenever they could spare time. Mr. Rammawia was also one of the three artisans who visited Thoubal Wood Carpentry Cluster at Imphal district and was also a part of the team that visited Sahranpur. Being already a skilled artisan, the cluster development programme gave him many innovative ideas. He had also participated in the ESDP programmes held at Baktawng, and attended seminars and workshops conducted by NID under the Design Clinic scheme. Mr. Rammawia’s dedication and hard work has made him one of the most sought after artisan from Baktawng Cluster. His loyalty and dedication to carpentry works has earned him a name in the carpentry society of Baktawng. At present he is the Chairman of the Baktawng Carpentry Industrial Co-operative Society. Mr. Rammawia has two bank accounts one in SBI, Khumtung and one in Apex bank at Tlungval village of Serchhip district. So far he has not had the need to ask for loans from any bank. His unit R.M. Carpentry work is known for its specialization in making wooden step railings. He has six employees working under him, and the other products of his units are cupboard, kitchen shelves, sofa sets, door and window frames. At present his unit earns around Rs.20,000 – 45,000 per month.