From competing with cheap rip-offs to dealing with vagaries of the market, the battle for financial stability of the thousands of xipinis (or weavers) of Assam’s Sualkuchi weaving village has been a long and ongoing one. In June, when the government announced that its products would finally get an official trademark, it was a move welcomed by all, one that could potentially end the rampant circulations of fakes in the market. Just a few days back, the government announced another initiative for the weavers: a silk yarn ‘bank’, inaugurated in a ceremony by the Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on September 14.
The ‘bank’ will function as a godown for stocking different kinds of thread. It will also double up as an office. “The government will provide subsidised mulberry yarn to weavers who can come collect it from here,” says Mukul Deka of Assam Apex Weavers & Artisans Co-operatve Federation Ltd. (ARTFED), under the Handlooms, Textile and Sericulture Department.
In the 2017-18 state budget, 20 crore has been sanctioned for Sualkuchi. It was then that it was decided that a yarn depot would be established. Following that a survey was done to identify the number of looms, quantity of production etc in the village. “This helped us to decide how our subsidies would be implemented,” says Deka. According to the new initiative, the government has identified 3,281 weavers with 7,000 looms who will get mulberry yarn at a 20 per cent subsidy. “This scheme is valid for people who own between 1 to 5 looms,” says Deka, “For a person with one loom, 1.5kg yarn will be subsidised per month. Likewise, for a person with 2 looms, 3kg will be subsidized, and so on, ” says Deka.
Sualkuchi Tant Silpa Unnayan Samiti — the organisation that rallied for the official trademark — has been long demanding subsidies for yarn. “Mulberry silk comes to Assam from China through Bengaluru. Sometimes it would be cheap, and sometimes expensive,” says Hiralal Kalita of the Sualkuchi Tant Silpa Unnayan Samiti. “The new scheme, we hope, will do away with this kind of uncertainty.”
Another important development part of the initiative are “passbooks” fashioned on bank passbooks to be given to each weaver. “It will be like a ration card — and double up as an identity card as well as a book to record all purchases and transactions with the yarn bank,” says Deka. Following the inauguration, 70 per cent of the passbooks have already been issued. “We are also getting teachers from the National Institute of Design and National Institute of Fashion Technology to teach our master craftsmen new designs,” says Deka.
The initiative has been implemented in three out of the eight gaon panchayats in Sualkuchi. There are about 11,600 looms in the entire village but production keeps fluctuating. “A main issue is electricity. Since this is an industry that runs entirely out of people’s home, ideally uninterrupted electricity through the day would be of great help and lead to better productivity,” says Kalita, adding tha Sualkuchi is a great avenue of employment to the people of Assam — “In fact many of our weavers comes from outside Sualkuchi. From the Bodo tribe, Karbi tribe etc.”
“While we welcome this move, we sincerely hope the yarn they provide us is of good quality. If it isn’t, there is no point. Our weavers will refuse to use it,” says Kalita.