The multipurpose Assamese gamosa , a ubiquitous, white cotton towel, has been assigned a new function — conservation of rare freshwater turtles.
Few cultural symbols are as utilitarian as the white handmade cotton gamosa, with its characteristic red border of woven motifs. It is valued as a gift for visitors, used as a scarf, anti-dust mask, wrapped around the head as a turban.
Conservationists are now banking on this cultural icon to carry forward the message of turtle conservation, with gamosas woven with turtle images.
“We had no idea that our routine weaving at home could be part of a conservation initiative,” said Mrinalini Das, a weaver from Puranigaon village at Biswanath Ghat, about 250 km northeast of Guwahati.
She is the secretary of Kaso Sakhi (Friend of Turtles), a self-help group comprising 60 women formed a week ago at Biswanath Ghat. Ms. Das is also one of eight members of this group who wove 36 ‘turtle scarves’ as an experiment under a project initiated by the Wildlife Conservation Society/Turtle Survival Alliance and funded by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund and Phoenix Zoo’s Conservation and Science Grant’s Program.
Parimal Chandra Ray of Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) said about 800 women of Puranigaon were motivated join the conservation programme because restrictions on fishing had hit their husbands hard.
“Biswanath Ghat is located on the northern banks of the Brahmaputra, which flows through the Kaziranga National Park (KNP). Its high biodiversity led to the 401.5 sq km Biswanath Wildlife Division becoming a part of KNP. This was beneficial for animal species that depended on the river, but affected the income of the fishing communities drastically,” Mr Ray said.
Turtle specialists thought of the Kaso Sakhi idea to offset the negative impact. “It is good to save animals, but we need to survive too. We have been given ₹350 per gamosa , though we have sought more,” said Pranali Das, another weaver of Puranigaon.
“We intend to sell the Kaso Sakhi-branded gamosa and other handloom products for generating revenue,” Arpita Dutta, TSA’s centre head, told The Hindu . A part of the money would go to conservation of rare turtles such as the Assam Roofed Turtle ( Panghshura sylhetensis ).