Handlooms: Fabric of the future

The handlooms in India are not just another cottage industry; it has its roots evolved over thousands of years. With every civilisation it has flowered with diverse products.

The crafts developed by the generation of weavers have kept the tradition alive, despite the odds pitted against them.

The fact that they have survived despite the onslaught of machine made cloth is a clear indicator of the resilience of the people who are involved in this sector.

The muslin cloth, Ilkal and Ikat weaving, are not only exquisite textiles but the diversity of designs can never match any other fabric on earth!

With over four million weavers including those working in allied supportive industries, it is the second biggest employer after agriculture.

The basic fact is that more than 70 per cent of them are women, from weakest sections of society.

Unfortunately, the government policies both at Central and state level are aiming at decimation of these treasures that is spread along the breadth of the country.

The Handloom Reservation Act was passed in 1985 to protect the weavers.

Originally, 22 items of daily use were reserved to be manufactured only by handloom weavers.

This was gradually reduced to 11 items in 1996, paving way to the entry of power looms.

As there is no regulatory regime to inspect and implement this Act, the power loom sector is encroaching on these 11 reserved items.

The market is flooded by fake handloom products, produced through power looms.
Powerloom vs handloom?

Recently, when noted theatre personality Prasanna form All India Handloom Association went on indefinite hunger strike in Karnataka in support of handloom weavers, the power loom association alleged that he was “dividing the weaver’s fraternity” and causing great harm to those engaged in power looms.

What is the truth behind this statement?

Contribution of cloth produced by power loom in the country in 2013 was 59 per cent in comparison to 11 per cent produced by the handloom industry.

In fact, the contribution from handloom in 1996 was 22 per cent.

Obviously, this indicates the plight of weavers who are forced to quit. They have to eke out a living earning about Rs 200 per day for working 10 hours.

We need to ponder as how handloom weavers are surviving in these harsh conditions?

Why the power loom sector feels threatened by the assertiveness of handloom sector? 

It is because it helps them to corner cash and other benefits in tax rebates that are allocated for the handloom industry.

Prasanna was forced to go on fast as the state government was keen to divert the funds allocated to handloom weavers for supplying clothes to schools under Viday Vikasa scheme to the power loom lobby.

Actually, the fight is not whether power looms are competitors for hand loom, but in order to survive the reserved items, it should at least be allowed to be produced by hand loom weavers.

The consumers should not be duped to buy fake products.

Eventually, both these sectors can co-exist. But decimation of hand weaving altogether is going to be a disaster.

This will lead to death of this sector forcing this to become a museum piece.

Recently, Prime Minster Narendra Modi, while addressing the nation on his Man Ki Baat, gave a call to countrymen “If you buy Khadi, you light the lamp of prosperity in the house of poor person”.

It is reported that after this call, sales of Khadi has risen dramatically.

Ironically, both the PM as well as those who bought the cloth are not aware of the reality that almost 80 per cent of these are produced by power looms and that the benefits has been cornered by those who own power loom leaving the hand loom weavers high and dry!

On the positive note, the consumers are keen to support the hand loom weavers.

The desi women cooperative in Karnataka has successfully shown how it can cater to the needs of the market with high quality hand loom products.

They have not only made profits, but have distributed two months’ salary as bonus to its 400 employees!

Similarly, there are number of successful ventures that have been able to create special niche for their hand made textiles.

Handloom is the fabric of the future as it has a special appeal to the consumers within and outside the country.

It is associated with our tradition, philosophy, sentiments and has implications for social and ecological equity.

“The thing of beauty has no fear of time” said late Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, the doyen who worked hard to revive the glory of handloom textiles.

By evolving supportive policies and implementing them, we can support the livelihood of millions of people as well as enhance our confidence of ‘make in India’ to become the world leader in hand made textiles.

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