With the partition of Bengal, the Swadeshi Movement gained strength. It was on August 7, 1905 that a formal proclamation was made at the Calcutta Town Hall to boycott foreign goods and rely on Indian-made products. More than a century later, in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first National Handloom Day. It was a salute to weavers and others in the industry to promote the handmade and the handwoven.
What is handloom?
Be it Tamil Nadu’s famous Kanchipuram saris or Assam’s Muga (golden silk) mekhela sadors, the Paithani weaves of Maharashtra or Benarasi brocades of Uttar Pradesh, India has the largest and widespread weaving industry in the world.
While different definitions for the word have evolved since the Handloom (Reservation and Articles for Production) Act, 1985, where ‘handloom’ meant “any loom other than powerloom”, in recent years it has become more elaborate. In 2012, a new definition was proposed: “Handloom means any loom other than powerloom; and includes any hybrid loom on which at least one process of weaving require manual intervention or human energy for production.” It basically made room for a relaxed entry for powerloom weavers. However, social media campaigns such as #vocal4handmade have been trending with ministers from the government, film personalities and fashion designers championing the cause.
Is there cause to celebrate?
Any weaving village today will testify that if there were five looms in every home may be less than half a decade ago, today finding one loom among five households may be a stroke of luck. There are numerous reasons why weavers have been getting the short end of the stick.
Raw Material: The Fourth All India Handloom Census (2019-2020) cites raw material support needed by nearly 59.5 per cent of weaver household (base = 25,45,312). From cotton, silk, and woollen yarn to dyes, costs have increased and so has the shortage. In 2015, a representation of the Confederation of Indian Textile Industry had raised concerns of the shortage of cotton for weavers in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. That they had to travel long distances to get cotton added to their transportation costs. Besides, smaller weavers have been unable to buy in bulk leading to lower output of material.
Credit Support: The Textile Association of India records that the budget allocation for the textile sector came down to Rs 4,831 crore in (2019-2020) from Rs 6,943 in the previous fiscal. This also means that various schemes be it housing, subsidies, health insurance will affect the weaver too. Quite often smaller weavers are at the mercy of money lenders, and suicides have made headlines in these recent years.
Reduced numbers: With many traditional families moving to cities for jobs as labourers, weavers have been leaving the loom. While the recent Handloom Census (2019-2020) records that there are nearly 31.44 lakh handloom households, and it has seen a rise from 27.83 lakh in the last census, the numbers are still dismal. If in 1995-96, the numbers were at 65.51 lakh, there is no denying that there is immense cause for concern.
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Lack of access: Poor infrastructure, older looms and inaccessibility to reach prime markets have made lives of handloom weavers even more difficult. While many organisations and NGOs have been helping local communities to reach consumers directly, there is a need to make it a level playing field of weavers of every income bracket, be it a master weaver with over 50 people working under him, or a smaller weaver, who with his six-member family works from home. While there are nearly 13 government schemes currently for weavers, there’s basically three per cent that is aware of the Weavers Health Insurance Scheme and only 10.5 per cent know of the credit waivers for loans that they can avail (Handloom Census 2019-2020).
The need for awareness, accessibility to markets and design R&D, easy access to raw material and better credit support can make a difference to weavers in different corners of the country. And then we can truly celebrate a National Handloom Day.
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