Neha Gupta
Research Scholar (M.phil), Department of Political Science, Dibrugarh University, Dibrugar, Assam, India

The ethnic women of north-eastern region by using their traditional knowledge and skill have been engaged in entrepreneurial activities since ages and have successfully shown the economic development of the region. They have also developed communicational enterprise, but in present day globalization this traditional skills of ethnic women are falling under the scour age of danger. The theme of the paper was to study the entrepreneurial skills and communicational enterprise of ethnic women, to analyze the present status and made an effort to suggest the measures to safeguard and reinforce these skills of ethnic women so that our age old practice could be preserved.

Key words: Entrepreneurial Skill, Ethnic women, Economic development, Traditional knowledge
1. Introduction
Northeast India is home to more than 70 major population groups and sub groups, speaking approximately 400 languages and dialects.  There are about 272 tribes and more in the region, thereby earning the title of “Miniature Asia”. Besides the tribe, non tribes like the Assamese (Assam) and Meitei’s (Manipur) also exist. Likewise it is home to various traditional skills and practices which has been producing all sorts of consumer goods and leading to economic self sufficiency of the region since age’s (Swami, 2013).The traditional knowledge of the ethnic women of north east India has been greatly appreciated and recognized in the society. There wisdom and native skills spans from cultivating and harvesting of agricultural produce, fermentation to culinary skills and production to marketing  for local economy subsistence. Thus they have all the abilities to carry on entrepreneurship and establish business of their own but in spite of all the so called social cultural and economic advantages given to ethnic women, they are deprived from their right to economic independence and growth. Several factors lead to the poverty and helplessness of these multi talented ethnic women. They always had the ability of a successful entrepreneurship .But the complicated patriarchal construct, the socio economic and political turmoil and changing trend in the international economy influence these north eastern ethnic communities and treat women and their contribution differently. Discrimination is created regarding both the private and public sphere of work to both man and women. This is one of the major reasons behind these economic deprivation ethnic women.

However the most significant sectors which worked behind this economic (entrepreneurial) disadvantaged of women is the decline in importance of the utility of the traditional skills and knowledge these tribal women possesses. The honour march of globalization and the neo liberal economy in this part of the south East Asian territories has shown its harmful consequences over the potentialities of these traditional ways of production and distribution of commodities. Thus it has also reduced entrepreneurial opportunities for the ethnic women in the region. This situation is not only threatening the existence of our age-old traditional knowledge and cultural heritage but also the status and livelihood of these ethnic women in our society. Thus this woman has become more vulnerable to exploration of all kinds –mainly economic.

2. Objectives
  • To discuss the traditional skills and entrepreneurial role of ethnic women in the economic development as well as the impact of globalization.
  • Finally to make an attempt to provide with some suggestive measures to increase the number of entrepreneurs among these ethnic women.
3. Methodology
The analytical and descriptive methods were adopted for the study. The research article was based on secondary sources as the data were collected from various books, newspaper and e-articles. Author’s interpretations were also added.    

4. Results and discussion
The contribution of entrepreneurs to economic advancement is likely to differ in developing country and remains a relatively unexplored research topic unlike that in developed countries. Women are unfortunately given only secondary roles; especially in under develop countries like India.

Basic types of entrepreneurship may be classified as:
  • Opportunity-based entrepreneurship - an entrepreneur perceives a business opportunity and chooses to pursue this as an active career choice.
  • Necessity- based entrepreneurship – an entrepreneur is left with no other viable option to earn a living. It is not the choice but compulsion, which makes him/her, chooses entrepreneurship as a career. In Northeast India necessity based entrepreneurship is seen among ethnic women.
Based on a report on comparative studies between a nation’s population and ethnic group, utilizing first hand interview with entrepreneurs, it was concluded that ethnic women often become entrepreneurs by being thrown into situations that force them to fashion their own means of livelihood. According to Gangte, 2011 the uneducated ethnic women in Manipur are mostly the one who set up small enterprises to sustain themselves and their families.

Economic development of a country or a geographic region depends on for major sectors: land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship. And this last one is perhaps the weakest among all the tribal population of women in north east India. Though some ethnic women in this region live in the matrilineal society and possess huge productive potentialities, yet their entrepreneurial capacities have been ignored since ages.         
Yet ethnic women of this region have been able to initiate some business such as shoe making, furniture, bakery, book sellers, catering, production of food items like soya bean edibles., bamboo shoots, dry meat, various type of pickles etc, cloth merchant (traditional dress), dress making and embroidery, traditional ornament, transport operation, flora culture, hair and skin care, traditional medicine and drug making, retailing business (Kurbah, 2013). Several ethnic communities of north east India have invented the traditional technology of converting protein rich soya bean into flavoured fermented food with easy digestion and bio nutrient. It’s a famous and full blooming business occupation in the region. This is exclusively carried out by the ethnic women in Sikkim, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh (Tamang, 2008). In the state of Meghalaya only, there are more than 20 categories of business that the Khasi women are entrepreneuring. 80% of the enterprises were started on women’s own initiative with minimum family support. Their current businesses were also rated as very good or good, and the progress over the past five years was maintained. These entrepreneurs require somewhere between rupee fifty thousand to rupees two lakhs to start their enterprise. It generally takes 2 to 4 years to settle down. In spite of all these difficulties, the innovativeness is the hallmark of most of the women entrepreneurs.

In a research carried out in 2008 by Nongdri on the working lights of ethnic women in northeast  engaged in trade, industries and contractual activities, it was stated that , “given the opportunity ethnic women do not lack in communication or the ability to carry out their entrepreneurial task”. The study was based on Khasi women in Meghalaya and the fear that matriliny and other cultural forces prevalent in the region can dampen the role of women entrepreneurship has not been borne out in this research. 

Thus the above analysis of entrepreneurship and communicational role of women in the region shows that despite average education and humble family background, the ethnic women have been equal to man in being quite enterprising and successful through hard work, patience, perseverance and good public relation. And among all the northeastern tribe, the Khasi woman of Meghalaya has been the most successful ethnic women in developing the entrepreneurial vibes among themselves since centuries.

4.1. Current role and status of entrepreneurial and communicational activities of ethnic women and its contribution in economic development of the nation

The modern concept of women entrepreneurship took shape in North East region of the country from the eighties. Like most women entrepreneurs in India, these women from the NE region have also embarked on their entrepreneurial journey in a relatively smaller scale, mostly based out of their homes. The most popular business ventures among the northeast ethnic women are poultry raising, pig raising and weaving. These traditional activities enable the ethnic women to become good entrepreneurs as these business categories require low set up cost, easy management, easy marketing, little labor input. These are known also as ethnic women property.

The name Lalita Devi Jain, fondly known as Madhu by the people of Guwahati, Assam has shaped her own destiny in the entrepreneurial arena. She created her own brand ‘Madhushree’ and has marched her way forward to carve a niche in the global market. She started with five looms and over the period of last more than 25 years, she has built up 50 looms. Almost 200 women are employed and they all have become the part of the family to create the brand of Madhushree.

Similarly Kos Zhasa of Nagaland, redefine and redesign handloom and handicraft products so that they are in tune with today's world and made a significant mark in India International Trade Fair (IITF). Her soap brand known as "Eikhoigee Pothapham" loose translated as "Our Rest House."

Women’s role in economic development in north east India is increasing in present time. Women’s skill is appreciated all over the world and their traditional products are fusion with today’s demand. The price values of such fusion product are sold at a very high price in foreign market which resulted in increase in national income. The demand and supply of such product makes communication easier and women become successful entrepreneurs and their communicational skills develop flooding the foreign markets with northeast Indian product. 

Maina Doley, a skilled weaver from Bohikhowa village of Bokakhat in upper Assam’s Golaghat district, had no idea that the Gaseng (a traditional wrapper used by women folk of Mising tribe of Assam, to which she belongs) which her tribe weaves, could be metamorphosed into a four-in-one multipurpose scarf that sells in the United States, Europe and other countries and fetches better price. Maina now weaves innovative dress more as it fetches her steady income.
A single piece of a traditional Gaseng, fetches Rs. 600 in local markets but in foreign markets same scarf fetches about Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 3,000 when sold to buyers in the U.S. or Europe (Talukdar, 2013).            
Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland are known for bamboo work, wood carving, pottery, handicrafts, traditional jewellery, artificial flowers from various natural things, blacksmiths etc and also for traditional weaving, dying and spinning. Sikkim offers opportunities of entrepreneurship in Woven Woolen Carpets and Blankets, Thangkas – traditional paintings on cotton canvas with silk frames , Choksee or small wooden tables, Sweaters and Jackets, Wall Hanging and Antiques with Buddhist motifs, Wooden and Bamboo Artifacts, Jewellery, Sikkim Tea ('Solja' and Khangchendzonga') Cardamom or Elachi, Yak's cheese (chhurpi), Lepcha Weave bags and many more.

Entrepreneurs also venture into areas like agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, poultry, animal husbandry which would improve value addition in the agricultural produce, employment generation in the region.

4.2. Hindrances on the path of development of entrepreneurial opportunities

Many factors contribute to generate disadvantageous situation for ethnic women:-
  • The loss of land, waters and forest experienced by ethnic women is specially deepening the poverty of them, while increasing their domestic load and subsistence responsibilities.
  • The introduction of cash economy has eroded their independence as self-reliant food producers, healers, artisans and spiritualist and thus declining their entrepreneurial qualities or opportunities.
  • The homogenizing trend brought about by globalization is increasingly affecting the richness of cultural diversity which is valuable asset for the ethnic women. This homogenizing trend is harming their productive capacities.
  • The ethnic women of northeast are repositories of rich, varied and locally rooted knowledge of ecosystem management and technologies, locally adopted seed varieties, medicinal plants, art and music that makes them wonderful business women , strategist – decider of economic growth of nation. These areas are also reduced to minimum importance of western techniques and machineries/capitalist expansions.
  • The society plays a prominent role in entrepreneurial venture and success. Besides, family related hurdles, women too faced other problems like mobility constraints, dual responsibility, low managing ability, risk bearing ability etc.
  • Women in Manipur face marketing challenges in the form of competition from cheaper and substitute product, thus they sell their product through the middle man. This middle man exploits them.
  • Lack of financial skills lead to women’s disempowerment. Women entrepreneurs in Manipur lacks financial skills as they did not understand hidden costs and anticipate appropriate cash requirement. Normally banks are blamed for not financing women. Banks don’t have doubt on women capability as they do not consider gender while financing but they place high premium on security of principal and interest amount that is why they take mortgage on bank finance. (Sairabell Kurbah, 2013)
4.3. Drawbacks in the Initiative towards Entrepreneurial Growth
Entrepreneurship is all about innovation and risk - taking and with abundant opportunities offered by the land, North East India can be a haven for entrepreneurs.

No doubt, women entrepreneurs are taking great advantage of the plethora of resources and opportunities available and glass ceilings are being shattered by women entrepreneurs today. But it is not a uniform process in the NE. It is difficult for a woman to make a fine balance between her business and home. Besides, the patriarchal social order makes it difficult for women to move out of her home and start and enterprise of her own, primarily because she is considered an outsider and her entrepreneurial abilities are doubted at every step by the society.

One of the biggest factors responsible for the failure of entrepreneurial initiative among ethnic women is globalization. Neo liberalism, capitalism, ultra consumerism, industrialization are the products of globalization which exploits indigenous and traditional culture .Capitalism as the patriarch of present time exploit women by dissembling them to use machine and technology. Thus it is due to capitalism that the talent of the ethnic women in the northeast is undervalued and ill paid. Globalization extracts more profit from the traditional product made by these women and give much less return to them.

Even the financial institutions are sceptical to fund women in new ventures. It has also been observed that most have to face tremendous difficulty in getting timely and adequate finance at a reasonable rate. Great people like Mahatma Gandhi also actively encouraged women’s participation in public life as he said, “Woman is the companion of man gifted with equal mental capacities. She has the right to participate in the activities of man….” But, at the same time, he also said, “I do not believe in women working for a living or undertaking commercial enterprise.”

5. Policy Implications
  • Access to land by indigenous women should be facilitated. For example, through the implementation of Andhra Pradesh Participatory Tribal Development Project (APPTDP), the tribal women there are enabled to obtain land titles and to manage them. The experience of Koya Tribal women indicates that through the project’s support several women received two acres in their names. Now, with land titles and the project sponsored bore-wells, pumps and tanks, women can grow cash crops in their neighborhood. (Project completion review report,2003)
  • Revitalizing and enhancing indigenous knowledge and blending it with modern technology is now taken into account as a legal right.
  • Sharing of experiences not only as a learning tool but also as a powerful empowering tool as it stimulates self-esteem and social cohesion among the ethnic women involved.
  • Without education it is more difficult for women to move out of poverty and they enter into a vicious circle of reduced employment opportunities and occupational mobility. To overcome this problem, literacy programmes exclusively for ethnic women of northeast India should be launched. More over education will help the women to understand the pros and cons of business management which will ultimately enhance the economic condition of ethnic women.
  • Human capital and natural capital should be encouraged .Training and capacity building, both technical and non-technical to support entrepreneurial initiatives of ethnic women. Team work skills should be emphasized.  Ethnic women should be accompanied by training on natural resource management so that women can properly utilize natural resources without any wastage. For example, in the Natural Resource Management (NRM) groups of the North Eastern   Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCRMP) in India, women participated in it. Women member have been imbibed with a sense of self confidence and have displayed strong team-work abilities. Many other such examples exist.
  • Management of financial resources will help women to increase their confidence level, capacity building and to use finance in proper place and proper time in business management so that money can be used properly benefiting women and their communication with the entire world.
  • Micro finance has been one of the most common instruments for rural poverty reduction and women’s empowerment. Micro finance, in a nutshell, has clearly been of benefits in many aspects of women‘s lives, such as their mobility, social visibility, dignity and self-esteem. Thus microcredit can be considered as useful example of a strategic gender intervention, with wide ranging advantages. Microfinance has developed different models including SHGs, revolving funds and special credit facilities.
  • Self-Help groups are small affinity groups that mobilize their own savings, which are then used as loans to group members. SHG managing their own savings have been particularly successful with indigenous women. For example, microfinance activities were carried out among Tangkhul women in the Ukhrul district of Manipur state.
  • The vulnerability context of ethnic women in north east India both manmade and natural like earthquake, flood, landslide (communicational error), ethnic-clashes, insurgency problems etc. should be checked to make them empowered and for the full flourishment of their traditional skills and expertise- Through conflict Mitigation, Peace Building and Reconciliation, they can be made empowered.
6.  Conclusion
Positively speaking, the current scenario is improving and the prospects seems to be gradually increasing with governmental and non-governmental institutes are extending helping hands to the women entrepreneurs of the region.

For instance, as a special step in this direction, NEDFi, one of the premier financial organizations in the region has launched this scheme called the SNEHH (Scheme for NE Handloom and Handicrafts). All Assam Jana Jagaran Society is another NGO that is working towards helping small Entrepreneurs of N.E. region who are working on handloom, handicraft, sericulture etc.

Woman entrepreneurs have already been involved in activities such as handicrafts, handloom, sericulture, etc. Women entrepreneurs faced lots of problems at start-up as well as operating stage. The main reason of non availability of finance to women is their inability to provide collateral as they do not have any property on their name. On the other side women have got restricted mobility freedom and have to perform dual role one at family and other at work which hinders the entrepreneurial growth. The technological advancement and information technology explosion has reduced the problem of women entrepreneurs. Along with technological revolution, mental revolution of society is required to change the attitude of the society and provide women with democratic and entrepreneurial platform. To end up, a nation can never grow until and unless a woman grows.

  • Indu Swami (2013). Marginalized condition of women of the northeast. Muse India: Women of NE. Courtesy- Available:      assessed on June 15, 2016
  • Jyoti Prakash Tamang,  Rajen Chetri and Rudromani Sharma (November 2008). Indigenous knowledge of north east women on production of ethnic fermented soyabean food , Indian Journal of traditional knowledge, 8(1):122-126
  • S.Talukdar (2013). “Dressing it up”. The Hindu, September 14. 
  • Sairabell Kurbah(2013). Role of women entrepreneurial in the economic development of Meghalaya: a north eastern state, India. International journal of engineering, business and enterprise application(online). pp.175-183. Available:  assessed on April 26, 2016.

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