Biate community is a largely ignored and obscure minority. They are an endangered community and there are only 15,000-20,000 biate people in the world today. Most of the community resides on both sides of the Assam-Megahalaya border region with 17 villages in Assam and 25 on the Meghalaya side.
While the community has been given recognition at district level they are still struggling for recognition as a community by the Assam state.
Being a minority in a region with long history of tribal feudalism has its own disadvantages. In Dima Hasao district, all political representatives are from the tribe with the largest population. Hence, minority communities like the Biate and their areas have been largely ignored.
Kharthong area still remains largely under developed with poor roads, and public facilities etc. The community primarily depends on growing organic products like ginger, turmeric, oranges, chillies, pumpkins, papayas, tobacco etc for sustenance. But due to poor rates offered to them by middle men and mandi agents they have been struggling to make ends meet and provide for educational, medical and other basic needs of their family.
For example, organic ginger that can cost as high as 200kg in organic stores is bought from the farmers by middle men at 10-20kg. Poor economic conditions force people to compromise on essential things like proper healthcare, education and nutrition for themselves and their families.
Since lack of proper rates for their produce lies at the center of their woes and miseries, it is only logical to address this central/root problem in order to empower the community and improve their lives on various fronts. In order to address this issue, Rest Of My Family has established an organic farmer’s producer company and is guiding the community to work towards unifying themselves in order to be able to run a FPO and receive fair rates for their organic produce and bamboo products.
KOFPO has been connecting the company to proper organic buyers from across the country and world and gradually uplifting the community. Rest Of My Family is closely working with the community in a facilitating and guiding capacity till the company is deemed self-sufficient and capable of running and managing its own affairs.
Since its inception, KOFPO is already providing channels to sell products like organic ginger, turmeric, mango and ginger at 5-20 times the local market price. Farmers who had been forced to sell their organic produce at throw away prices are finally seeing a ray of hope and are hopeful of building a better future for the coming generation.
After establishing a sustainable model for the 17 Biate villages in Dima Hasao, the company will also reach out to other tribal communities in the district apart from extending the support to 25 Biate villages in the Meghalaya.
Handcrafted bamboo straws
Bamboo is central to the biate way of life many other Northeastern tribes. It is used in various ways in their day to day activities. They live in homes made out of bamboo and many things like cooking utensils, boats and rafts all made out of bamboo. Apart from their bamboo craftsmanship is an aspect being marketed under Kharthong Crafts branch of KOFPO.
Our completely hand crafted bamboo straws are one way that the community contributing towards India’s effort towards moving away from single use of plastics while sustaining their craft.
The straws are handpicked, processed, treated in 100% organic manner and crafted without use of any machines.
Some scientists estimate there are 7.5 million plastic straws polluting U.S shoreline and anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion plastic straws on shorelines around the world. Switching to bamboo straws is a great way to take a step towards a plastic free world while supporting tribal communities.
About Rest Of My Family:
Rest Of My Family is a social-work-through art organization registered out of Banglore, Karnataka. Founded by Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami, the organization operates with the following philosophy.
Everyone and every community we meet is a part of our family- part of our human family. Hence, their problems are not just their problems, alone. They are our problems too and we have to try our best to find solution to these challenges with all our resources, ideas and limitations. Unless we realize this, and start to look at social and individual issues in this light and act accordingly in our own capacities, we continue to be a part of the problem and not the solution.
Rest Of My Family aims to propagate such a philosophy and encourage such inclusive attitude towards social issues while raising awareness about ill-effects of a selfish way of life through documentary films, photo stories, other forms of art apart from undertaking rural development, empowerment projects.
Rest Of My Family has documented and lied with numerous rural and tribal communities all across the country (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam).
By Piyush Goswami (Co-founder of Rest of My Family)