Rescuing the Handloom Industry
Published, Feb 9, 2014 in the Deccan
Click here for the Deccan Herald Link
www.vam.ac.uk (Victorial & Albert Museum - South Asian Textiles
The handloom industry in India is unique due to the traditional
skills evolved over thousands of years. It was the backbone of the rural
economy, generating income for the agricultural sector. Even though it
was colonial rule that led to the decimation of it, the post independent
government has ignored the contribution of this sector completely.
A census of the handloom industry in 2010 revealed the decline in total
number of looms and weavers. At present there are about 42 lakh (4.2
million) people working in this sector and there are question to be
asked. Is this industry so doomed, as to become extinct in the era of
globalisation? Can it withstand the onslaught of the power looms? Must
we allow this ancient tradition to die as it is unable to provide much
for its weaver? Will it become a museum piece in the coming years? It
seems that the Textile Ministry has already lost hopes. It was said that
the numbers have gone down drastically of both the textile and its
weavers, majorly because the next generation is not very keen on taking
up the profession due to the low income generation. Owing to the hard
labour they have to undergo, a substantial amount of weaver are living
in sheer poverty.
The textile industry in India comprises three sectors: the mill, the
power loom and the handloom. Of the total textile production in the
country, power looms contribute 61.32 per cent, the mills 3.34 per cent
and handlooms 11.28 percent. Evidently, handlooms do contribute a great
deal towards rural employment. But with the other sectors overpowering
there is not much scope.
In order to protect the interest of the handloom industry, the Central
Government passed the Handlooms (Reservation of articles for Production)
Act in 1985. It provides reservation of certain articles for the
handloom sector in order to rescue the handlooms and provide security
with assured market access to their products. Unfortunately, there was
no attempt to implement the provisions of the act. At the time when it
was passed, there were 22 items that came under the handloom sector
which was reduced to 11 in 1996. This new list too is not barred by the
encroachers in the power loom industry.
Furthermore, the textile ministry led a failed campaign, trying to
change the very definition of the word handloom. By including one manual
process in the production of textiles, the ministry wanted to favour the
power loom industry. With this small revision, the benefits and budgets
allocated for handlooms can be accessed legitimately by the power loom
sector. All India Federation of Handloom Organisations led a successful
struggle to resist this ploy to change the definition.
In 2011 the finance minister allocated Rs 3000 crores to revive the
handloom industry in the country with loan waiver and strengthening the
weavers cooperatives. Ironically, even after three years, the money has
not reached the weavers and the revival itself seems a distant dream. In
reality, the common man too is cheated when he purchases a handloom
product, which actually is the product of a machine operated power loom.
In order to highlight the plight of the hand loom sector and the
weavers, a two week Padyatra was organised in northern Karnataka
covering 245 kilometers across the dry regions of Gadag and Bagalkot
districts. It was led by Prasanna, the founder of Charaka, a cooperative
of 650 weavers. In most of the villages the women weavers shared their
anguish of toiling for more than ten hours and earn a meager wage of Rs
200 per day. Their demand was to stop introducing power looms to replace
hand looms, implement the Handloom Act. Prasanna had to sit on
indefinite fast to attract the attention of the government.
What is striking is that even in these adverse conditions, there are 24
lakh (2.4 million) looms still working in the country. This is more than
all the looms put together in entire world. All they require is some
amount of support and recognition and they can easily emerge as a sector
at par with the IT sector. And this can only be achieved if we recognise
it as a thriving art with no rival in the world.