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Padmasaalis - The Weaver Communities:

History is the result of various forces and factors including geographical, social, religious etc. Each region of India evolved its own textile tradition and known for the production of distinct varieties of handloom saris. This handloom saris and blouse weaving industry is highly traditional, labour intensive, caste based mostly unorganized and decentralized. It employs a large number of women folk and thrives on inherited skills and patronage by rural population and connoisseurs of art. The weavers say that at one time, the Padmashalis as the community is called, were among the better off in the village. But today, even the most backward SC/ST population get land for agriculture, the weavers get no help.

Challenge to the Society -

India has a heritage of handloom weaving that is unique and the largest anywhere in the world. But that is dying because of lack of support and policies that are killing the handloom industry that provides employment to the largest number of people after agriculture in the country. In the market, the biggest challenge is unfair competition. Powerloom products are sold as handloom. The genuine handloom is produced with high cost, subsidised labour. Imitations which are produced cheaper move in the market. That is the cumulative challenge.

Irony of the times -

The tragedy is that at a time when the government is talking about skill development as a priority, these skilled artisans are becoming deskilled labour, working as vendors or chai makers. The government says there are 43 lakh weavers in the country. Activists put that number at nearly two crore people. But, these artisans have left their art and started migrating to the cities and adopted professions like chaiwalas and coolies. The irony is that cotton production has gone up to a record 380 lakh bales yet yarn is not available easily to the weaver and yarn price went up by 50-100 per cent but wages have hardly increased.

What does Handloom mean to India?

If IT sector employs 10 million people in the country, Handloom sector employs 4.3 million people. Handloom, or fabric woven by hand, makes up just over a tenth of India’s total fabric production. A spectacular range is created by weavers across the country, from the Madras checks and Kanchipuram weaves of Tamil Nadu to pashmina and shahtoosh of J&K, from the tie-and-dyes of Gujarat and Rajasthan to the eri and muga silks of Assam. Greatest of the collection like Mangalgiri cottons and Kanjeevaram silks have no competition when it comes to cultural significance it brings to clothing.

Limitations of Powerloom -

Powerloom accounts for nearly 60% of fabrics and, because it is mechanised, works nearly 10 times faster than handloom. Costs differ, but the gap is massive: handloom can cost Rs 500/metre to create, while the same fabric could be woven on a powerloom for Rs 30/metre. Average investment in a powerloom could be Rs 15,000, three times that of handloom. But many handloom motifs and patterns cannot be replicated on powerloom.

Snippets

Narendra Modi, The Prime Minister
 The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, said on 7th August 2015, National handloom day that handlooms can be a tool to fight poverty, just as swadeshi was a tool in the struggle for freedom. He said Khadi and handloom products provide the same warmth that mother's love provides.
Ritu Sethi, Chairperson, Craft Revival Trust:
Have separate policies for powerloom and handloom, ensuring that powerloom policy does not cannibalise handloom. Handloom is the second largest industry after agriculture, giving millions direct and indirect employment, and deserves its own ministry.
Maqbool Hassan, master weaver, Varanasi:
Have a handloom mark like the gold hallmark to certify authenticity.
Jayati Ghosh, Economist:
Give handloom weavers access to markets, knowledge, credit. Get textile experts on board as decision-makers.
Deepika Govind, Fashion designer:
Teach weaving in schools to instil pride in students in urban areas and give a sense of purpose to weavers. Increase market connect for weavers from remote areas.
Laila Tyabji, founder, Dastkar:
Government should invest in pre-loom and post-loom stages to ensure handloom weavers get finance, timely raw material and market access. Don’t concentrate only on design and promotion.

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