“I never gave up my innovation to make Kouna mat weaving machine.”
The National Innovation Foundation – India honoured Yengkhom Mangi Singh, a Dalit who belongs to Lois community of Kakching, Manipur, a 70 years old physically challenged, with the state award for his innovation in manufacturing Kouna Mat Weaving Machine at sixth National Grassroots Innovation Award ceremony and exhibition, held at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on March 9, 2012.
Smt. Pratibha Patil, the President of India distributed the awards to 15 National and Life time achievers and inaugurated five days exhibition. Over hundred innovators from all over the country took part in the award distribution ceremony and displayed their innovative products in the exhibition.
What struck me the most about the grassroots level innovation is Mangi himself – physically challenged, 70% disability suffered paraplegia at the age of 14, a husband of a mentally challenged wife, a father of three sons – two mentally challenged, yet a man who become one of the hundreds and thousands of innovators that the nation has recognised.
Mangi received award of Rs. 50,000 from Nation Innovation Foundation – India honouring his lifetime achievement. He wants to invest this amount to develop into move advanced machine.
He used managed walking by limping though the help of a bamboo stick all these years, until he was gifted a wheel chair by Students from Kakching studying in Delhi when he attended a National Grassroots Innovation exhibition in New Delhi last year. He still faces the challenge as the wheel chair he has now depends on another person to push him around. He will perhaps become more independent on his innovative if he has one automatic wheel chair.
His achievement of innovation would have remained in a corner of his home without the initiative of Surjit Kshetriymayum, the secretary of Alliance for Development Alternatives- Manipur (ADAM), Kakching, Manipur.
Madhu Chandra, Spokesperson of North East Support Centre & Helpline and Regional Co-ordinator of GS/OM India Ministry for North East India branch, interviewed Mr. Mangi after he received State Award.
Madhu Chandra: What is a Kakching Mat Weaving Machine?
Mangi: Kakching Mat Weaving Machine is made of wood, a kind of handloom, to make Kouna and Chumthang Phak (Mat). Kouna or Chumthang Phak is a must-have household item in every Manipuri home. The Kouna and Chumthang phak is eco friendly production.
What is Kouna Mat?
Kouna (local name) is a class of water reed, a firm stemmed water or marsh plant grown perennially in the wetlands of the valley areas of the Manipur. Manipuri traditional mat is also made by another material known as Chumthang, which is also a classic reed grown in dry land. Kouna is soft, stems are bigger while Chumthang is harder and smaller stems.
How Did You Become Physically Challenged?
I suffered paraplegia at the age of 14, which has caused 70% disability to my body. I used to walk limping with a bamboo stick until last year I got wheel chair after attending the National Grassroots Innovative Exhibition in New Delhi. Now I am on wheel chair, but I cannot function myself without an another person helping me.
What is Your Family Looks Like?
I got married to Maipakpi Devi at the age of 30 as physically challenged man. Unfortunately my wife has become mentally challenged after we got married. I have three sons; one is married, living with his family. Two of my sons are also mentally challenged. They are living with me. It is a huge challenge for me to manage and maintain the need of my family as a physically challenged person.
What Inspired You to Make Kouna Mat Weaving Machine?
From my childhood, I was interested in making creative items. I learned to repair radio, electric stabilisers, car battery chargers by my own without any formal training. I used to earn my family livelihood from these works and it was not enough to run the cost of the family.
Twenty years ago, I realised that the Kouna Phak is a household items of Manipur, which are made by normal men. I had an innovative idea of making a wooden mat-weaving machine similar to handlooms, which are used by women in Manipur to weave clothes. I wanted to make such a mat-weaving machine that a disable person like me, can also use.
I could not sleep for three months when I was thinking of making the machine. I never gave up the idea and begun manufacturing in early 1992. Within a month I completed making one wooden Kouna Phak Weaving machine, it was one feet high, five feet of length, and of four feet of breadth. I have been using it for last twenty years until I developed the advanced model recently.
What are the Advantages with a Mat Weaving Machine Compare to a Traditional one?
The traditional is suitable only for normal people, not for people like me. The traditional mat weaving machine, which is stretch on floor, limited with size, occupied more space, you need to bend your head down, which hurts your back, it was not possible for me. It takes minimum two weeks to make one mat with traditional model. Now with the mat weaving machine, which I have developed, one can make two mats in a day.
What were the Challenges You Faced While Making Kouna Mat Weaving Machine?
My family was the biggest challenge in my life. My wife and my two sons were completely dependent on me. My eldest son got married and lives with his family separately. I did not have any single person to motivate, I was alone as a source of motivation for the innovating in making the mat weaving machine. In spite of constant demand to earn more money on regular basis to maintain my family needs, I never gave up my innovation to make Kouna mat weaving machine.
Why Does It Take So Long for People to Know about Your Innovative Machine?
The machine I made twenty years ago was kept just in a corner of my house, which nobody knew except those who came to purchase the Kouna mat. It came to know to the public of Manipur when my machine was introduced to handicraft exhibition in Manipur through the help of Surjit Kshetrimayum, the secretary of Alliance for Development Alternatives – Manipur (ADAM) two years ago. Then it was also displayed at National Grassroots Innovation Exhibition organised by National Innovation Foundation – India at New Delhi, the month of March 2010, where the President of India witnessed it for the first time.
What Is Your Vision?
I have three visions: One is to develop more advanced machine, so that the weaving can be faster and produce more products. I have some innovative ideas for developing them. I hope in next few months, I will be able to develop it.
Secondly, I want to manufacture more such machines, so that it can be sold at reasonable price for traditional mat weavers. This will help them to make more mats with less effort and faster.
Thirdly, the Mat Weaving Machine can be further developed to weave carpets and other weaving items.
How Much this Machine Costs?
The present model is sold at Rs 15,000 each. This machine can produce two Kouna mats and one Chumthang mat in a day. One Kouna mat costs Rs 350 and Chumthang Rs 600. This is suitable for semi skill and home based business.
What is Your Biggest Need?
I am in need of an automatic battery run wheel chair so that my movement can be operated myself. This will enable me to move around without help of another person so that my innovation could be passed on to others.
What Message Do You Want to Give to the People of Manipur?
Your innovative idea does not limit by whatever, whoever and wherever you are. Never give up what ignites you. Manipur needs people who are innovative, particularly for the purpose of self employment, where is a lack of employment under Government schemes.
Pic: President Pratibha Patil interacting with Yengkhom Mangi Singh of Manipur, innovator of Kakching Mat-Making Machine, during inauguration of Exhibition of Innovations at President House Complex in New Delhi.