India’s Northeast is one of the most beautiful regions of the country, with some of the friendliest people around, who are rich in tradition and local pride. The northeast has a lot to offer in terms of culture, tradition, art and crafts. The region also boasts of some of the greenest forests in the country, and is rich in natural resources, including oil and natural gas.
However, knowledge of the beauty and the richness of the Northeast states of India is restricted to the area, and even within the area, life is full of challenges which people from all walks of life face. To understand these problems better, and to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, it is important to deep dive into the ethnic, social, and economic history of the people and the region.
The Northeast states of India, comprises of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, which are often referred to as the Seven Sisters, with the eighth being their brother Sikkim!
It is a region poorly connected to the Indian mainland. And the poor physical connection with the rest of India has resulted in poor infrastructure development, much-wanting quality of education, weak nationalistic and economic integration, and a multitude of competing interest groups – which in turn has led to a multitude of problems and conflicts in the region – that are constantly challenging the integrative and accommodative capacity of Indian democracy.
The lack of education, abundant poverty, and widespread porous borders have turned the Northeast India into a soft target for human trafficking.
Since impoverished rural areas rely on agriculture for livelihoods and subsistence, the work of women and children is not always economically valued. Out of desperation and deceit, women and children are unwittingly (and even knowingly) sold for sexual exploitation and into slave labour.
Impulse NGO Network led by Hasina Kharbhih has focused on this vulnerable group and has fought human trafficking in the Northeast for over a decade now. It has partnered with other organisations in each of the eight states of the Northeast in an effort to help Report, Rescue, Rehabilitate, Repatriate and Reintegrate trafficking victims.
Hasina and the team at Impulse also realized it wasn’t just enough to rescue and repatriate victims, it was also important to tackle the root cause of the problem, which is abject poverty and the lack of sustainable livelihood in many tribal areas.
Keeping this in mind, the team at Impulse first began in 1993 by helping Syntein villagers in the East Khasi Hills District leverage their traditional skills, and earn fair wages by marketing quality modern products made using traditional bamboo craftsmanship. This business grew over the years and helped the artisans involved find their feet financially. It also laid the seeds of the idea to scale up the business model to encompass more tribes of the northeast, and leverage their unique artisan work, to produce world class products for international markets, all held together by ethical business practices.
This eventually led to the creation of Impulse Social Enterprises – a for-profit entity that would create new economic opportunities for sustainable livelihood among the tribes of northeast India. Impulse has already launched products produced by Assamese and Mishing tribes, and will soon launch more products and services in collaboration with Garo, Khasi, Mizo, Manipuri, Naga, Mizo tribes. All of which would go a long way in tackling one of the root causes of human trafficking in the region.
The truth is, that a market for unique, high quality, hand-made artisan products already exists around the globe. The motivation to support social causes through the purchase of responsibly sourced products is already established and is more than a trend. What has not been done is to connect Northeast India to this market – which is what Impulse is now doing.
Furthermore, India’s Look East Policy which is aimed at forging closer and deeper economic ties with India’s eastern neighbours, puts Impulse Social Enterprises and the northeast states in the right place at the right time to leverage new opportunities in bilateral trade, travel and tourism with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, and Nepal.
All said and done, there is still the risk of exploitation of people and dilution of local culture due to the influx of money and market influences. Therefore it is imperative that economic growth happens through close cooperation with the local people, and with a bottom-to-top approach that integrates local people at as many levels as possible.