Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Bijyashanti, in red, seated second from left with her team.

Woman Entrepreneur Continues to Earn Laurels With Her Lotus Silk Fabric Innovations

Twenty nine years old Bijyashanti Tongbram, founder of an enterprise “Sanajing Sana Thambal” and a resident of Thanga Tongbram near Loktak Lake makes silk yarn from Lotus stem, transforming a formerly unused part of the lotus plant into something valuable and lucrative. She skillfully weaves exclusive products priced higher than ordinary silk to produce fabrics from which she makes custom designed face-masks, scarves, mufflers and neck-ties. Her enterprise is one of the best known producers of lotus silk yarn in Manipur today.

Bijyashanti Tongbram is the eldest daughter of Tongbram Joykumar and Heisnam Ningol Tongbram Ongbi Sanahal Leima and sister of Tongbram Ramananda and Tongbram Phamthonleima. Her father works at fishery department and all her family members support her in her novel enterprise. Her father helps in her work by collecting Lotus stems, her mother helps her in weaving and her sister helps her in producing silk yarn from the Lotus stems.

A loin loom weaver at “Sanajing Sana Thambal”

Bijyashanti graduated from G.P.Women’s College, Imphal in the year 2014 in Botany with honours. She came to know about the idea of producing silk yarn from lotus stem during a conversation with her father’s friend while she was planning to make her lotus garden for producing tea. There, her father’s friend mentioned about lotus yarn producing practiced in Mandalay. Since then, she started reading plant journals and searched for its economic value and started to experiment herself. She embarked on her journey of producing silk yarn from lotus in the year 2018 at her age of 25. The same year, she established her enterprise “Sanajing Sana Thambal” aiming to utilize Loktak Lake produces useful to others. Her aim was to advance agro-tourism by developing aqua gardens, rest house etc. She was also inspired by her own grandfather, a practitioner of ethnomedicine with the plants found in Loktak Lake and nearby farms. She also learned the benefits of lotus since then.

In an online interview with Bijyashanti, she claimed that she employs around 30 local women at present though initially she began with only 5 persons. Her enterprise produces around 1 Kg of this particular yarn in a month and this is material enough to make nearly 8 scarves. The source of raw materials for her enterprise is a nearby wetland known as Takmu pat and also from Loktak pat, the biggest fresh water lake in North-east India.

Lotus silk is painstakingly extracted from lotus stems

Her enterprise also produce various items like face-masks, neck-ties and scarves, and these are retailed in the local market for Rs 800 per face-mask, Rs 4000 per neck-tie and Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 for scarves, depending on size. The time-consuming, skill intensive and laborious works make these products expensive. She also manages to give respectable honorarium for her employees from the generated income.

Bijyashanti said there are tremendous health benefits to be had from using lotus fabric wears. It can help healing neck pain, heart problems, restlessness of mind and headache etc. Moreover, the clothes produced using lotus yarn is completely biodegradable and environment friendly. She asserted that her clothes can be used for different purposes starting from ceremonial to fashion and casual wear. Lotus cloth is also in demand from outside for rituals and worship purposes. She informed that at present, she is not able to meet the product demands from outside. She is not in favour of modern technology though this can enhance the production volume. She considers handmade products more valuable in comparison to machine products. Moreover there are no machines developed yet for this particular production.

So far, she gives training to four places regarding the yarn production, two localities nearby and at another two different places of Moirang and started working as new branches of her enterprise. Besides producing her lotus stem products, she also produced tea leaves from Blue Water Lily (scientific name Nymphea Caerulea) and Ginger lily (Hedychium Coronarium) aknown locally as Loklei from the same sources. She is also in the process of making a garden of her own.

She attended CAU Regional Agri Fair 2021 at CAU Lamphelpat, Imphal and “Mai-own” exhibition 2021 at Hapta Kangjeibung, Imphal. It is an exhibition of world-ready products from all corners of Manipur which aims to boost local entrepreneurs, manufacturers and service providers to reach global standards. It was held as part of the celebration of the present government completing four years of governance, a step towards achieving Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India).

She was one of the 80 women entrepreneurs in the 1st Cohort of “Her&Now” women entrepreneurs programme in North-east India. A project called, “Economic Empowerment and Start-ups by Women” and in the country under the name “Her&Now” was implemented by Deutsche Geselleschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and in partnership with the Indian Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MoSDE), to support entrepreneurs in India.

The project aims to contribute to a more enabling environment for women-led enterprises in India. Over the course of the programme, Bijyashanti along with other entrepreneurs were provided with the opportunity to learn from mentors and industry experts through a series of capacity building sessions, one-on-one mentoring and customized support, peer connect and support community. The project promotes aspiring and existing women entrepreneurs with incubation and acceleration programme. Designed as a 7-month full-fledged program, the selected women entrepreneurs are supported to equip themselves to build on their business ideas, grow and scale their ventures and also to build a strong community of Women Entrepreneurs that contributes to their resilience capital through good at bad times. She also claimed to gain a platform for exposure at the programme. She also received Rs. 3 lakhs grant as support from Start-Up Manipur, a scheme launched by Manipur Chief Minister N.Biren Singh on 15th March,2018 an initiative to make Manipur, one of the top start-up destinations in the North-east by providing the most enabling ecosystems to support and nurture start-up entrepreneurship in the state and also expressed that she is able to run her enterprise smoothly with it.

Sanajing Sana Thambal has bagged 1st position under the Startup category of “Mapping the Changemakers of North East Region 2020” organized by BIRAC Regional Techno-Entrepreneurship Promotion Centre (BRTC) at KIIT-TBI Bionest supported by BIRAC, DBT, Govt. of India. She also received certificate for excellence in “Farm Entrepreneurship” from Krishak awards powered by Honda in 2021. Recently, she also participated in a training organized by North East Agri Technology Entrepreneurs Hub Technology (NEATEHUB), Assam Agricultural University and give a virtual interview durung this Covid-19 pandemic.

During this Covid-19 pandemic too, her enterprise continues to work collecting Lotus stems and converting them into silk yarn. She plans to give more training following the Covid-19 SOP guidelines given by the government in order to increase the branch for her enterprise and give benefit to others too. She also believes in the growth of her business in the days coming.

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