Highland to High Fashion: The Development of a Women Cooperative in Ladakh

Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Highland to High Fashion:
The Development of a
Women Cooperative
in Ladakh
Abhilasha Bahuguna1
G. Prasanna Ramaswamy2
Pashmina or cashmere is one of the most expensive natural fabrics in the world,
and yet the lives of those who produce this rare fibre are the toughest ones.
This article seeks to analyse the various stages in the creation and development
of the Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative under Project Laktsal of the
district administration Leh. It is an initiative to empower rural Ladakhi women by
endowing them with skills necessary to add value to raw pashmina and woollen
fibres to turn them into the high-end products perennially in demand. Sharing
the lessons learnt in bringing together 150 uneducated, unemployed women
from different and distant villages and in training and uniting them by the creation
of a cooperative society is the endeavour of the article. It analyses various steps
involved in building forward and backward linkages for the organisation and
imparting the women with such diverse skills as knitting, weaving, production
planning, marketing and financial management. The article also tries to put the
effort in the right perspective, giving an idea of the extremely tough conditions
faced on a daily basis by the women of rural Ladakh.
Pashmina, women’s empowerment, skill development, rural development,
migration, institution-building
Indian Journal of Public
65(1) 152–170, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556118814653
1 Project Strategy and Brand Development (Non-prof‌it), Looms of Ladakh Women Cooperative.
2 Deputy Commissioner, Indian Administrative Service (Batch 2010), Jammu & Kashmir, India.
Corresponding author:
Abhilasha Bahuguna, Project Strategy and Brand Development (Non-prof‌it), Looms of Ladakh
Women Cooperative.
E-mail: abhilashabahuguna9@gmail.com
Bahuguna and Ramaswamy 153
Changthang, Changpas and the Pashm
Pashmina, the enigmatic fibre, has had an overwhelming influence on Ladakh in
the medieval and recent times. It was the desire to monopolise the lucrative fibre
trade that induced the Jammu-based Dogra kings to annex this region. One of the
finest in the world, the pashmina fibre averages 12–15 microns in thickness (Wani
& Wani, 2007), 55–60 mm in length (Shakyawar, Raja, Kumar, Pareek, & Wani,
2013) and are produced by a goat variety (Capra hircus) native to the high altitude
pasturelands of Changthang in Ladakh and Tibet. The worldwide production of
pashmina fibre is around 10,000–15,000 tonnes per annum. The major producers
are China (70%), Mongolia (20%), Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal and India. India
accounts for less than 1 per cent of the pashmina produced in the world (Wani
& Wani, 2007), but its produce is among the finest of them all.
The pashmina goats are reared mainly by the Changpas, an ethnic group
of pastoralist nomads, at altitudes of 4,000–5,000 m in the Trans-Himalaya’s
goat, sheep and yak husbandry forms, the main occupation of a majority of the
Changpas. It has shaped a way of life, in many ways, unique and worth preserving.
Traditionally, the Changpas were self-sufficient. Their livestock provided them
with their necessities. In recent times, however, the influx of tourism, defence
investment and allied government services have altered their motivations bringing
about significant changes in their self-sufficient lifestyles.
In India, pashmina is mainly procured from the All Changthang Pashmina
Growers’ Association, Leh, and only a small portion of it is used locally. Most
of the pashmina is sold to processors in Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
The total value of the pashmina after being woven into shawls and other fin-
ished products is `200 crores (Shakyawar et al., 2013). The contribution of pash-
mina to the local economy through direct sale of raw cashmere is estimated to be
`10–12 crores and that of wool to be `2.50 crores. On an average, goat rearing
families’ annual income from their flocks of pashmina is `18,902 (Wani, Wani,
& Yusuf, 2009). The other considerable factor is the extremely labour-intensive
nature of the occupation which entails grazing flocks over large distances, tending
to the sick and so on in very harsh conditions. A good quality pashmina shawl can
easily fetch a price of `50,000 in the market.
Major centres of pashmina production are in the Durbuk and Nyoma subdivi-
sions of Leh district which together make up for 90 per cent of the total pashmina
production of 45–50 metric tonnes. Sheep rearing is more dispersed and spatially
scattered in the district but still these two subdivisions are major players in this
sector. Yak is also an important fibre-producing species, and there are around
18,000 yaks in the district, mostly in Durbuk and Nyoma (Sheep Husbandry
Department, 2016). The average pashmina production per goat in the traditional
belt is around 130–350 g per animal (Wani et al., 2009) and wool yield around
1–1.5 kg per sheep per year. The comparative figure for yak stands at 1–1.5 kg.
Table 1 shows the total number of livestock and production of raw material in
various subdivisions of Leh District.

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