Yards of heritage

Last Updated 15 May 2015, 20:06 IST

The handloom industry has been spinning yards of cultural and historical heritage for decades now. One of the largest industries in rural India which provides employment to many, it recently has grabbed eyeballs because of an online petition.

‘Save Handlooms — Don’t repeal the Handloom Reservation Act!’ is trending on social media and has received over 15,000 signatories in less than a week. The Act lists certain items reserved only for handlooms and protects the interests of marginalised craftsmen.

It prevents handloom designs from being copied by powerloom producers and the call for the Act to be repealed has stirred the hornet’s nest as it would have serious implications in the handloom industry. The drive to preserve the textile prowess cuts across classes as designers, youngsters, NGOs and handloom boutiques in the City are against the Act
being repealed.

Sharada, a member of DESI, that works with handloom weavers, discusses the repercussions of the Act.

“The Act was revived in 1985 when saris and a few flagship items were given protection. Now, if this Act is completely repealed, it would affect majority of skilled workers.

Powerloom weavers will produce the same goods in a mechanised and faster way and a number of innovations will be killed as certain items can be spun only on the handloom. The handloom industry, which is already struggling to survive, will not be able to compete in the market.”

She adds that while powerloom is less laborious to work with, the set-up of a powerloom costs about Rs 1.5 lakh, which will lead the traditional craftsmen to take loans. “Only cheap and mechanised goods will flood the market if traditional craftsmen move to the powerloom industry. The notion that powerloom weaves are less expensive is a myth. The basic handloom garment is not expensive and margins are high only when middle-men are involved in the industry.” 

Rakhi, a professional, is one of the youngsters who signed the petition. She feels that the handloom industry can create weaves which cannot be copied by any powerloom.   
Handloom boutiques in the City are also testament to the fact that handlooms are growing. Abhi, who works at ‘House of Taamara’, a store in Indiranagar that caters only to handloom and handcrafted items, says that the sale has been growing as many people don’t prefer designer and gaudy wear as compared to simple cotton saris.

“We have people who come between the age of 20 and 50. They prefer a handloom sari and mix-and-match it with different kinds of blouses.” Monali, the manager of Fulki, another boutique with handloom and powerloom saris, says that though she sees the older generation buying handloom saris rather than youngsters, there is a 30 per cent sale in handloom weaves. “I give a smart touch to handloom wear so that they appeal to youngsters as well.”

However, the question that hounds us right now is whether and to what extent do online petitions help in making a difference. Rakhi, says that campaigns on social media will get youngsters talking and hence will make an impact overall while Sharada feels that one needs to try all sorts of mediums to protect a rich industry as social media has a wide reach. 

Many feel that the Act must strengthened as the handloom markets undergo a number of challenges. Sharada points out that there is a dire need to look into the Act as powerlooms continue to produce those designs which are reserved only for the handloom industry, illegally. Jayanth from ‘Manya Hasthakala’, which works with the handloom industry, says that schemes which are present have to reach the handloom industry and be implemented accordingly as many are misused by middlemen.
Ritu Kumar, a designer, who has three successful labels in the City, feels that handlooms and powerlooms have to co-exist.

“We don’t bring down monuments to build multi-storey buildings. We don’t want to go the powerloom route completely as there would be a death in innovations and the variety of ‘khadi’ and handspun yarn which only handlooms can provide. The powerloom should ask rights for itself rather than eat into the handloom industry. Handloom is not a basket case. It has to evolve according to the needs of the market and the Government has to catalyse  its growth by employing market-savvy people.” 

(Published 15 May 2015, 16:50 IST)

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