This yoga mat is an eco-conscious tribute to Deepor Beel in Assam

Six women, belonging to the fishing community from Deepor Beel (a permanent freshwater lake in Guwahati, Assam), have worked together to create biodegradable and compostable yoga mats that reflect their community’s beliefs in biodiversity, conservation and cultural continuity.

After working on it for a year, the mat made of natural materials — mostly water hyacinths — is ready to be launched. As a tribute to the place they come from, the mat is named after the Purple Moorhen ( Kaam Sorai in Assamese), a migratory bird that is unique to the beel (lake).

The design and process of dyeing and weaving are allenvironment-friendly. This also includes making the mat sturdy, smooth, soft and most importantly, slip-proof.

Deepor Beel is recognised as a Ramsar Site, a wetland of international importance, and for centuries has beena source of livelihood for nine fishing villages in its vicinity. Over the years, the lake has seen rapid growth and accumulation of water hyacinth that has led to the shrinkage of the water body and disrupted the natural ecosystem.

From the ground, up

The women — two of whom are named Mitali Das, along with Romi Das, Bhanita Das, Sita Das and Mamoni Das — have named their project ‘Simang’ — translating to ‘dream’ — which took wings when they decided to seek the expertise of Rituraj Dewan and Nirmali Barua, known for their work on natural products and biodiversity.

After weeks of brainstorming, planning and learning during the 2020 lockdown, the women were able to come up with a foolproof structure to their product.

Mitali Das who is also a trained beautician sees this as their first step to become entrepreneurs and create opportunities of livelihood for others. She says, “Making use of natural things from the beel to design products is not new. But we wanted to move away from the usual and make an impact. We know how to weave andhave the raw material We just needed direction. That is where Rituraj and Nirmalya stepped in. From day one, they made it our dream and goal, making us look forward to the final product and the response from people. What we have now is very unique, earthy and rustic,but attractive product.”

Scaling out

The women wove water hyacinths using traditional Assamese loom and different combinations of techniques, materials and tools to develop the mat. It involved the engagement of 38 women from three peripheralvillages (Keotpara, Notun Basti and Borbori).

Noticing that technology intervention could also increase the production rate, Rituraj and Nirmalya suggested the girls reach out to North East Centre for Technology Application and Reach (NECTAR).

“Once NECTAR, an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), came on board, it got easier for us. As the collection, drying and preparation of the water hyacinth before weaving is the most important process, NECTAR’s technical interventions like using a solar dryer which reduced the drying time from 10 days to about three days propelled us to work harder. It also compensated for the loss in time due to heavy rains that occur frequently in this part of the country; we have a six-month-long rainy season (May to October),” says Mitali.

Simang plans to launch the product on World Yoga Day (June 21, 2021). “The households which initially refused to work with us are now queuing up to ask for work. More than the money, the idea of becoming self-reliant and to be part of a project that makes people take notice of our villages is a big driving force. They now tell us, irrespective of the size of the involvement, we would love to be a part of it to make our Deepor Beel famous,” adds a pleased Mitali.

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