Sustaining lives or craft or both?

[I visited the Daram store in Hyderabad on Oct 2. Dastkar Andhra had organized a talk and discussion on Gandhi Jayanti to discuss the future of handloom weaving and khadi in India, its relevance and viability. Following is a collection of thoughts after the visit]

"Currently there are 45 lakh handloom weavers in our country and close to one lakh weavers in Andhra Pradesh". As the world moves towards clothing manufactured in large mills powered by electricity, there is a small question that pops up in my mind. What about these 45 lakh weavers?

Photo Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria
I met a lady at the Daram store yesterday. During the discussion that had happened earlier, she had expressed her discontentment with the discourse that was going on in support of the weavers. "Isn't the problem faced by weavers similar to that faced by software engineers. Both would become irrelevant with newer technologies. Why are these people (Dastakar Andhra) not doing anything about them?"

Absurd, though the argument may sound at first, from a logical standpoint it needed to be answered. I told her, "The problem is that of availability of opportunity and recognition of the problem by the government". If we assume for a moment that we do not want to conserve hand-weaving and khadi as part of our tradition, then isn't it imperative of the government to create a framework where those rendered jobless by this "graduation" , can move to alternative sources of livelihood." There is no justification for putting the needs of one group of people (mill owners and workers) over another(weavers).
Photo Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Photo Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria
Another point that is made in defence of not switching to hand-woven fabric is the the cost of hand-woven clothing. It is true that hand-woven clothing is costlier and sometimes also seen as elitist (because of the cost). But, as claimed by organizations involved with weavers and weaving, the cloth that comes out is much superior and requires the same kind of maintenance as normal clothes.

Coming to the point that we chose to assume unimportant - preserving weaving as an art-form or an activity that is part of our culture. Not to mention the fact that khadi has a special place in the national freedom struggle. Gandhi interwove the concept of freedom with swadesi and exhorted the people of the country to weave their own cloth.

Photo Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria
It is in this respect that we should ensure that weaving as a profession remains viable for those who choose to continue with it. This can be done by providing market linkages, removing middle-men from the supply chain, improving the quality of the end product, innovating on designs. There are organizations which are already working towards this - Dastkar Andhra, Malkha, No Nasties being a few.

The event that I had attended was aimed mainly at getting the "IT crowd" acquainted with the issues concerning weavers. However, not many from the "IT crowd" turned up. What the IT Crowd thinks is a different topic altogether. Their attitude towards social issues represents concern but lack of knowledge. This leads to misguided and token initiatives to solve real problems.

"Khadi is going to come back into vogue in the next 5 years", is what a gentleman proclaimed. As per his understanding, the way oil prices are rising, the cost of mill-manufactured cloth is going to go up to a point where people would find the khadi and hand-woven clothes more attractive (in terms of price). In my opinion, optimist as this theory is, it still trusts the "Invisible Hand" to herd us all to prosperity. I am no socialist but I strongly feel that the job of the government is provide a level playing field to all its citizens. The reason weavers are in the kind of trouble they are in is because the "Invisible Hand" was not large enough to take these 45 lakh people in its fold.

As literate and, hopefully, educated society members, it is important that we know that issues like these exist in our country. We should not depend on news that is laid in front of us by a media which just refuses to acknowledge these problems. As I say, they are into reporting occurrences (of which too they do a very shabby job) and not into bringing out issues.

Photo Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria

Images Courtesy: Pankaj Sekhsaria

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