KVIC rekindles forgotten Monpa Handmade Paper Industry in Tawang

Dec 26: The 1000-year old heritage art – the Monpa Handmade Paper of Arunachal Pradesh – which was driven to extinction, has come to life once again, with the committed efforts of  Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).

The art of making Monpa handmade paper originated over 1000 years ago. Gradually the art became an integral part of local custom and culture in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. Once produced in every household in Tawang, this handmade paper was a major source of livelihood for the locals. However, the handmade paper industry almost disappeared in the last 100 years; prompting KVIC to plan revival of this ancient art.

KVIC on Friday commissioned a Monpa handmade paper making unit in Tawang which not only aims at reviving the art but also engaging the local youths with this art professionally and earn. The unit was inaugurated by KVIC Chairman Shri Vinai Kumar Saxena in presence of local people and officials. Inauguration of the paper unit is a historic event for the locals.

The fine-textured handmade paper, which is called Mon Shugu in the local dialect, is integral to the vibrant culture of the local tribes in Tawang. The paper has great historic and religious significance as it is the paper used for writing Buddhist scriptures and hymns in monasteries. The Monpa handmade paper, will be made from the bark of a local tree called Shugu Sheng, which has medicinal values too. Hence availability of raw material will not be a problem.

Back then, such was the scale of production that Monpas used to sell these papers to  countries like Tibet, Bhutan ,Thailanand and Japan as no paper making industry existed in these countries at that time. However, the local industry gradually began declining and the indigenous handmade paper was taken over by inferior Chinese paper.

An attempt for the revival of the this  handmade paper industry was made in 1994 but failed as it was a mountainous task owing to various geographical challenges in Tawang. However, with the  strong resolve of higher management of KVIC, the unit was successfully established despite many challenges. On the instruction of KVIC Chairman, a team of scientists and officials of Kumarappa National Handmade Paper Institute, (KNHPI) Jaipur,  was deputed at Tawang to  set up the unit and training the locals.  Over six months of rigorous efforts bore fruits and a unit has been commissioned at Tawang.

Initially, the paper unit has engaged 9 artisans who can produce 500 to 600 sheets of Monpa handmade paper per day. The artisans will be earning wages of per day Rs 400 per day. To begin with, 12 women and 2 men from local villages have been trained to make Monpa handmade paper. KNHPI is a unit of KVIC.

The most challenging task for KVIC officials was to transport the machines to Tawang owing to its difficult mountainous terrains and inclement weather conditions. The Arunachal Pradesh Government lent full support to the project and offered a  building  on a nominal rent to set up the unit.

The KVIC Chairman said reviving the Monpa handmade paper industry and increasing its commercial production was the key objective of KVIC. “Owing to its peculiarity, this handmade paper has high commercial value that can be harnessed to create local employment in Arunachal Pradesh. By increasing production of Monpa handmade paper, it can again be exported to other countries and regain the space occupied by China in the last few decades. This is a local product with great global potential, which is aligned with the Mantra of “Local to Global” given by the Prime Minister,” Saxena said.

“The fatigue from the 15 hours of road journey from  Guwahati to Tawang in this difficult terrain just vanished on witnessing this paper unit coming to life again. It is, indeed, a privilege to have inaugurated the unit that will revive this local art,” Saxena said while lauding the KVIC- KNHPI officials for their hard work and Arunachal Pradesh Government for their support to the project.

Apart from handmade paper, Tawang is known for two other local crafts – handmade pottery and handmade furniture – that are also getting extinct with passage of time. KVIC Chairman announced that within six months plans will be rolled out for revival of these two local arts. “Revival of handmade pottery will be taken up on priority under Kumhar Sashaktikaran Yojana very soon,” Saxena said.

The Monpa handmade paper unit will also serve as a training center for the local youths. KVIC will provide marketing support and explore markets for the locally manufactured handmade paper. KVIC plans to set up more such units in different parts of the country. Saxena said KVIC will also begin production of innovative plastic-mixed handmade paper in Tawang that will be crucial for reducing plastic waste in the region.