Rescuing handloom industry

The weavers often work for over ten hours, earning a meager pay of Rs 200 per day.

The handloom industry in India is unique due to the traditional skills evolved over thousands of years. It was the backbone of the rural economy, generating income for the agricultural sector. Even though it was the colonial rule that led to the decimation of it, the post independent government has ignored the contribution of this sector completely.

A census of the handloom industry in 2010 revealed the decline in total number of looms and weavers. At present there are about 42 lakh people working in this sector and there are question to be asked. Is this industry so doomed, as to become extinct in the era of globalisation? Can it withstand the onslaught of the power looms? Must we allow this ancient tradition to die as it is unable to provide much for its weaver? Will it become a museum piece in the coming years? It seems that the Textile Ministry has already lost hopes. It was said that the numbers have gone down drastically of both the textile and its weavers, majorly because the next generation is not very keen on taking up the profession due to the low income generation. Owing to the hard labour they have to undergo, a substantial amount of weaver are living in sheer poverty.
The textile industry in India comprises three sectors: the mill, the power loom and the handloom. Of the total textile production in the country, power looms contribute 61.32 per cent, the mills 3.34 per cent and handlooms 11.28 percent. Evidently, handlooms do contribute a great deal towards rural employment. But with the other sectors overpowering there is not much scope.

Providing security

In order to protect the interest of the handloom industry, the Central Government passed the Handlooms (Reservation of articles for Production) Act in 1985. It provides reservation of certain articles for the handloom sector in order to rescue the handlooms and provide security with assured market access to their products. Unfortunately, there was no attempt to implement the provisions of the act. At the time when it was passed, there were 22 items that came under the handloom sector which was reduced to 11 in 1996. This new list too is not barred by the encroachers in the power loom industry.

Furthermore, the textile ministry led a failed campaign, trying to change the very definition of the word handloom. By including one manual process in the production of textiles, the ministry wanted to favour the power loom industry. With this small revision, the benefits and budgets allocated for handlooms can be accessed legitimately by the power loom sector. All India Federation of Handloom Organisations led a successful struggle to resist this ploy to change the definition.

In 2011 the finance minister allocated Rs 3000 crores to revive the handloom industry in the country with loan waiver and strengthening the weavers cooperatives. Ironically, even after three years, the money has not reached the weavers and the revival itself seems a distant dream. In reality, the common man too is cheated when he purchases a handloom product, which actually is the product of a machine operated power loom.

In order to highlight the plight of the hand loom sector and the weavers, two week Padyatra was organised in northern Karnataka covering 245 kilometers across the dry regions of Gadag and Bagalkot districts. It was led by Prasanna, the founder of Charaka, a cooperative of 650 weavers. In most of the villages the women weavers shared their anguish of toiling for more than ten hours and earn a meager wage of Rs 200 per day. Their demand was to stop introducing power looms to replace hand looms, implement the Handloom Act. Prasanna had to sit on indefinite fast to attract the attention of the government.

What is striking is that even in these adverse conditions, there are 24 lakh looms still working in the country. This is more than all the looms put together in entire world. All they require is some amount of support and recognition and they can easily emerge as a sector at par with the IT sector. And this can only be achieved if we recognise it as a thriving art with no rival in the world.

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