* Dr. S.K. Panda
Kapada (Clothes) comes next after Roti (Food) as the most important basic need of human being. Aborigines were using bark of trees and leather of animals for protecting themselves from extreme cold and heat in the nature. Discovery of cotton, wool and silk along with the technology for spinning it to yarn and weaving yarn into fabrics mark one of the fascinating links in the evolution of human civilisation. India has a rich tradition of handloom with each state and region known for weaving fabrics unique and peculiar to it. Pashmina Shawl typical to Leh, Ladakh and Kashmir Valley, Kulllu Shawl of Himachal Pradesh, Phulkari and Panja Weave of Panjub, Panchachuli Weave of Haryana, Shisha weave of Rajasthan, famous Benarashi and Chikankari of Uttar Pradesh, Bhagalpuri Silk of Bihar, Bandhani of Gujarat, Paithani of Maharashtra, Mysore Silk of Karnataka, Kasavu of Kerala, Kanjeevaram and Kalamkari of Tamilnadu, Pochampally of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, Chanderi and Maheswari of Madhya Pradesh, Single and Double ikat of Sambalpur, Odisha, Jamdani of West Bengal, Muga Silk of Assam, Naga Shawl of Nagaland, Rhea and Pachhra of Tripura, Puan Cloth woven on loin loom in Mizoram, all represent a wide range of hand woven fabrics typical to India.
Spreading from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Kuchh to Cachar, each region of the country has its unique handloom product, which truly reflects the “Unity in Diversity” that India is known for and makes every Indian proud. Continuing and conserving this rich heritage is a national task, which requires active support of the consumers, and producers, duly supplemented by efforts of the central and state governments. Apart from meeting one of the basic needs of human being, handloom forms an important component of the culture and tradition and a pride possession of its owners. In fact, handloom fabrics, known for its rich design, became a source of envy for the foreign rulers apart from the gold and diamond jewellery and spices. There is reference to chopping off fingers of the skilled weavers of Bengal for protecting the British textile industry. However, industrial revolution led developments with production of fabrics in bulk in the power loom and composite mills affected the status of the India handloom industry adversely on a continuous basis over the past decades.
As per the Third Handloom Census (2009-10), the number of handloom fell to 23.77 lakh, by 31.8% from the Second Handloom Census (1995-96). Number of handloom weavers and workers similarly declined to 43.31 lakh by 33.8% from the previous census. However, the share of fulltime weavers increased from 44% (in the second census) to 64% (in the third census). Latter is a positive development indicating that while the total number of handloom and handloom weavers has been decreasing, percentage of weavers pursuing handloom on a fulltime basis have increased. Further, the facts that over 70 % of the weavers are women and majority of the weavers belong to the backward classes make the industry of considerable social significance.
Notwithstanding the fact that handloom forms a part of the tradition and culture, in a free market economy the strength of a product depends on its quality and price, as compared with competing products of similar nature. Share of fabrics woven with manmade fibre in power looms and composite mills has been increasing steadily supported by new technology. In order to compete with such fabrics in a free market, handloom is required to be strengthened based on its unique nature in respect of quality and new designs. Emergence of the urban middle class with sizable disposable income has opened a new window of opportunity for the handloom products, particularly from well-to-do customers looking for ethnic product of unique nature. This will help handloom in facing the competition from power loom and mill-made fabrics. This has necessitated empowering the handloom weavers adequately with financial and technical support, handholding and recognition for development on a sustainable basis by exploiting its own strength rather than depending upon subsidy based crutches.
The approach for promotion of handloom got a big boost under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, who took personal interest in promotion of Khadi and Handloom as a matter of national pride on the one hand and for providing livelihood to lakhs of handloom weavers depending on this age old industry on the other. A two prong approach for development of the handloom industry was taken up covering giving social recognition to the handloom weavers and enabling the weavers to weave unique quality products for increasing his earning substantially. These measures envisage attracting the young generation to continue in the profession. Some of the major components of this new approach included the following:
- The 7th August was declared as the National Handloom Day and the first national handloom day was observed in Chennai on the 7th August 2015.
- India Handloom Brand was launched for assuring quality of product and purity of design, dye, fibre and other specifications to the customer/ buyer.
- Development of handloom cluster with about one thousand weavers was taken up with provision of assistance up to Rupees two crores for infrastructure namely a training shed, godown, office room with internet connectivity and rest room; provision of loom and accessories, training and designing to individual weavers and marketing. This will serve as the nucleus of quality production. Further, production of handloom fabrics has to be taken up based on “zero defect” (in product) and “zero effect” (on environment) and meeting the changing taste of the customer.
- Provision of technical support for development new design, dying, quality weaving at the production centre level. Training and capacity building for imparting technical skill as well as soft skill for accessing the market as envisaged under the ‘Skill India’initiative covering fresher’s training, Recognition of Prior Learning(RPL) along with using the expertise of award winning skilled weavers.
- Strengthening the Indian Institute of Handloom Technology and Weavers Service Centre, converting the handloom Diploma courses into Degree level, changing the syllabus for sensitizing the students to work closely with the handloom weavers, posting at least one Handloom Degree/Diploma holder in each cluster.
- Evolving synergy between the handloom and Fashion (the National Institute of Fashion Technology) for promoting handloom products with fashion giving specific attention to the changing taste of the younger generation and high-end customers.
- Ensuring supply of yarn, dye and chemicals and weaving accessories with quality at a rate lower than market price through the National Handloom Development Corporation.
- Financial assistance for facilitating change in design, compensating the wage-loss, technical training, supply of required accessories, work-shed, insurance, health care and other facilities to the handloom weavers.
- Promoting young enterprising weaver as entrepreneur for establishing direct link with market/ boutique owners, promoting sales through e-marketing, which will reduce the cost of transaction and thereby increase earning of the weavers substantially. Assisting educated enterprising youth from the weavers’ family for starting their own enterprise under the “Startup India” and “Standup India” initiatives with financial support from the “Mudra Bank” as the most critical element for accessing market digitally under “Digital India” imitative.
The Second National Handloom Day was observed at Varanasi, an important centre of handloom production. Spirit of handloom of Varanasi is reflected in aspirations of every Indian parent to see their daughter in Banerashi attire on her wedding day. The Third National Handloom Day is scheduled be held at Guwahati, another important handloom centre known for the famous golden Muga fabric with bright colour designs of Sualkuchi, Assam.
Handloom product of India represents an inseparable part of our rich culture and tradition and act as a source of livelihood for millions engaged in this activity. This development is a continuous process and requires active cooperation of all the stakeholders, viz. (a) the handloom weavers in producing fabric with new design and quality as per the liking of the customer, (b) the industry supplying raw material for ensuring quality and at a reasonable price, (c) the financial institutions for providing capital at a reasonable rate of interest and simple procedure, and (d) e-commerce agencies for marketing with low transaction cost, etc. The government agencies, particularly the Ministry of Textiles, the Development Commissioner (Handloom) with the network of Weavers Service Centre and the state departments dealing with promotion of handloom are required to assist the weavers with commitment, compassion and due recognition. The common consumer need to support by wearing handloom on at least one day in a week, in addition to festivals and ceremonies, which will give them the feeling of being Indian and contributing to welfare and livelihood of the talented weavers.
Observing National Handloom Day needs to be seen as an opportunity and a duty by each and every Indian for respecting our culture and tradition, and supporting the primary producers-handloom weavers with exceptional skill and creative ability. However, it is only one of the links in the chain covering “Make in India”, “Skill India”, “Digital India”, “Start up India”, “Stand up India”, “Mudra Bank” etc initiatives, which are required to be directed for empowering the handloom weavers with skill, income and dignity for achieving the noble dream of making the development inclusive and participative “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.