Until two years ago, C K Sheena had never seen a handloom. She knows that’s odd since her Mangattidam panchayat is part of Kerala’s Kannur district that’s known for its traditional handloom sector. “I didn’t know what a loom looked like. That’s because I was never interested. I used to spend my time sitting in front of the TV, watching serials,” she chuckles.
In September 2017, at the insistence of a local panchayat member, Sheena applied to train as a weaver under the government’s ‘A Loom at Home’ scheme, which aims to revive the handloom industry, besides encouraging women to be self-reliant. When she finally got the loom, she had her doubts: “I thought, will I ever be able to weave? But after two years of doing this, I am quite confident. Last month, I earned Rs 12,000,’’ says Sheena, a 42-year-old mother of two teenagers whose husband Rajeevan is a construction worker.
The loom scheme was an upshot of another scheme: Last academic year, Kerala introduced free handloom uniforms for students of Classes 1 to 7. To meet the average annual demand of 48 lakh metres of cloth for the uniforms, the government announced the loom scheme — after the launch in Mangattidam panchayat in November 2017, the scheme was rolled out in Kolayad, Payam and Cherupuzha panchayats. Now, 750-odd looms are in operation in the district under the scheme.
The fabric that is woven through the scheme is bought by the Kerala Handloom Development Corporation (Hanveev), which then supplies it to schools.
While most of the women who applied for the loom were either unemployed or had been working in unorganised sectors, they have now been earning between Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000 a month. The scheme has attracted women across communities, breaking the caste link that has traditionally tied the Chaliyan community to the profession.
The women who applied for the loom scheme were given a three-month-long training programme with a monthly stipend of Rs 4,000. After training, every woman was given a loom worth Rs 50,000. Besides getting the yarn free of cost from Hanveev, the women earn Rs 78.65 for every metre of handloom cloth woven. Weavers also get an incentive of Rs 4,000 a month. Each of the four panchayats has a Hanveev collection centre, were women hand over the fabric and take back yarn.
One of the main draws of the scheme was that women could earn without having to leave their homes. Bijina N P, 25, left her tailoring job to become a weaver. “Many women had initially dissuaded us from joining the scheme, fearing the project would end up unsuccessful. Now, they are all eager to do this,’’ she says.
Mangattidam panchayat president K Praseetha says women were initially sceptical. “We did not get enough applicants when we began, but once women got to know of others who were making a decent income, more people signed up,’’ she says.
Hanveev Managing Director K T Jayarajan said the scheme is so successful that several panchayats across Kerala are now seeking to replicate the project. “We are looking forward to aid from the government for the next stage of the project,’’ he said, adding that the corporation supplied 5 lakh metres of uniform fabric last year and hoped to supply 10 lakh metres this year.