Towards a new policy for productivity revolution of Manipuri Women with a global vision

Mohendro Nandeibam
When the whole world has acknowledged the marked contribution of women as perennial and paramount human capital, the doubtful position of women in Manipur needs a critical review. Today they account for one-half of potential human capital in any society; - more so in Manipur. The unique contribution of women during transition from pre-literate to literate is amazing.
Globally women control $ 20 trillion in annual consumers’ spending. They perform 75% of world’s unpaid works——largely subsidizing the world economy. Women continue to earn, on an average, 60 to 70% of what men earn. They spend 90% of their earnings on their families; boost demand and promote better education for children. Their inherent concern for a better future of family is the lively article of life.
Equally important is the distributive role they play in creating a peaceful and stable society;-the pre-requisite for any breakthrough of development. Remember an orderly and right thinking environment promotes an orderly mind. We cannot expect sustainable development without “peace dividend” at home. In fact, the social crisis has its origin partly in uneasy experience of families. Family is basic unit of civilisation and development.
Education is a powerful tool for enriching the potentials of women in any socio-economic set up. Well designed system of education tailored to the changing needs of society has dramatic effects on the productive capacity in various sectors. It improves agricultural productivity, stimulates enterprise development, promotes business management and market interaction, raises returns on investment, enhances environmental protection, enriches social discipline and norms, acts as vanguard for traditions and repository of peculiarity of National identity and widely raises the standard of living. This is the reason why investment in women sector has acquired a hallmark in the planning for sustainable development.
The National scenario at the moment is not encouraging. At 17% of Gross Domestic Product accounted for by female workers, the economic contribution is less than half of the global average. China goes far ahead with 40%. The position of Manipur is not so bad with economic participation of 40% (2011). But the rise of marginal workers from 1,88,860 in 2001 to  2,06,174 in 2011 has deeper implication of worsening situation.
Development of Manipur economy may not be possible without sustained development of handloom and agricultural sectors which represent the regional character and strength. Cultivators (5,74,031) and handloom households (2,21855), taken together, constitute 61% of workers of the State. Imagine a situation where there is no handloom and agriculture. It is empty and lifeless. Working force of women is the working force of the sectors.
Economic position of handloom households needs a lot of improvement to make it an engine for industrialisation. Employment is high. Productivity is low. Income is less. 84.55% earn less than Rs 15,000 a month. 43.55% earn less than Rs. 5000-10000 a month (4th All India Handloom Census, 2019-2000). By and large, they belong to Economically Weaker Section (EWS). The level of earning is not sufficient to create a surplus, for savings and investment in this age of rising competition and higher cost of living. Most of them live in the houses having 2-3 dwelling kutcha rooms.
Sales destination of major product speaks of the competitive standard of the sector and also largely determines the range of income earned. Larger market particularly of export sector normally generates higher income and employment. To our dismay and disappointment only 70 handloom households in Manipur have export potential as against 2308 of Assam, 119 of Sikkim and 118 of Mizoram while Manipur is said to be a land of Handloom and Handicrafts (4th All Handloom Census, 2019-20). Is it not a lively testimony of policy failure ? In short, Manipur is a classic example of “dwarf” women economy that fails to grow beyond their original size and hold back job creation and productivity.Shortage of well-trained skilled workers is major cause of low productivity and low market interaction. In India till 2015-16 only 2.3% of workforce acquired formal skill development training as against 96% in South Korea, 80% in Japan, 75% in Germany, 68% in United Kingdom and 52% in USA. Manipur is not exception to this dismal scenario. Manipur should now act vigorously on innovative skilling and livelihood with Sectoral Skill Councils in a new environment prepared through the strategy of Area Development Approach.
Look at markets in small towns and periodical rural markets where women vendors are eagerly waiting for one prospective buyer for a single sale of the day. Yesterday they were weavers; and today they are vegetable vendors; or otherwise. A few vegetables displayed on a piece of dirty sackcloth by the roadside speak of the abject reality of poverty experienced by them in their day-to-day life. Towards the close of market they pay back the capital borrowed from money lenders with interest and go back home with negligible margin of profit to meet their consumption requirement. They spend their life in 62% of households with 2-3 dwelling rooms (Kutcha). Poverty of women economy remains a running phenomenon with majority of them living in villages and hill areas.            
Women empowerment through financial independence could be, perhaps, the most decent strategy for which we have to identify the industrial potentials of women in the State. Functional illiteracy should go and be gradually replaced by wide range of employability. While there are many work to be done for further development, why there are few jobs ? The issue is lack of job planning at different levels of development.
The popular policy of grant and subsidy; the piecemeal approach, could at best be an isolated initiative for temporary support, while the need of the hour is sustained capability.
In a State like Manipur handloom sector comes in first in view of historical and time-bound core-competence of weaving skill for larger export market with State taking defined responsibility of exceptional institutional parenting. What we need now is productivity revolution of local enterprises with global vision duly powered by new schemes of skill development, discipline development and guided entrepreneurship.
A time has also come for Manipur to review the functional relationship between handloom household and non-handloom household such as apex co-operative societies, handloom development boards, handloom development corporations. Running as a sale counter of products of handloom houses is not enough. They have to act on a new policy initiative for hand-holding-end-to-end partnership with new inputs from fast changing markets. They have to act on mission-mode as friend, philosopher guide; not as “big brother”. Acting on behalf of and with Government; as the case may be, they have to ensure skill upgradation, product diversification, technology upgradation, improved access to low interest credit, subsidies, common infrastructure development, brand building and better marketing infrastructure.
We must keep in mind that the Act East Policy of India may be a source of concern and also a beginning of new opportunity. Availability of opportunity is one and utilisation of opportunity is another thing. A new Government with genuine spirit of good governance is the need of the hour to tap the industrial potentials of Manipuri women in global market.