The world knows Mahatma Gandhi and khadi as the two icons that drove India’s struggle for Independence more than 7 decades back. Thankfully, both Gandhi and khadi, a hand-spun, natural fibre cloth, continue to live on in our conscience even today. In fact, Khadi has come to represent the real ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ that includes being sustainable in our clothing. The force behind this movement is our weavers, ground-level workers, who have spent generations keeping khadi and many other handloom traditions alive through centuries.
The 4th All India Handloom Census (2019-20) says that India is home to 26, 73,891 handloom weavers and 8,48,621 allied workers. These skilled men and women are carrying forward India’s 5,000 year old tradition of running looms, right since the days of Vedas to the folk ballads. In fact, at the hands of ‘Bapu’, charkha (spinning wheel), the quintessential cog in the handloom wheel even became the symbol of India’s independence struggle. The looms that run across the length and breadth of this diverse nation churn out poetry on fabric, which goes by names such as Ikat, Kalamkari, Patan Patola, Brocades and Zari. According to NABARD, after agriculture, handloom sector is the largest direct/indirect employer in the country and it also exports a substantial amount to the country’s export income.
However, in the absence of modernized designs, sufficient market access, and financial support, the workers continue to struggle to raise their standard of living and continue the handloom traditions. Taking note of their situation, the office of the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, has implemented the following schemes for the welfare of handloom weavers as well as for the development of this sector. These schemes are National Handloom Development Programme (NHDP), Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme (CHCDS), Handloom Weavers’ Comprehensive Welfare Scheme (HWCWS), and Yarn Supply Scheme (YSS).
Now the private sector has also pitched in to do its bit with the latest step taken by the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), jointly with Ernst & Young LLP. The project, “Handmade in India” trained 6000 traditional handloom weavers located across India, and it was supported by HSBC. The weavers belong to six handloom clusters – Bargarh (Odisha), Surendranagar & Bhuj (Gujarat), Maheshwar (MP), Kamrup (Assam), and Salem (TN). The project planned to create awareness among the weavers regarding topics such as social media marketing, credit linkage, capacity building, design development, market linkage, and enterprise development.
The first phase of the project focused on instilling entrepreneurial competency among the weavers. This was achieved through targeted enhancement of capabilities as well as knowledge of the workers. Concepts like sustainable handloom weaving and awareness were taught to the participants along with informing them about a few other income generating activities. The EDII plan also involved upgradation of the weavers’ skills, introduction of latest marketing techniques, enhanced credit availability in the vicinity and telling the younger generation that handloom sector could also be a feasible career option.
Currently, there is a need to scale up such efforts for the sake of a better future for the weavers and their families. One area where this can be immediately achieved is digital marketing. Training the weavers and their families in using social media to the best of their abilities could bring a sea-change in their fortunes and also take Indian handloom to the world in a big way. Using online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram as well as e-commerce portals efficiently could mean a world of difference for the weavers, most of who don’t step out of their homes or villages ever in their lives.
The weavers need to counter disheartening factors such as low remuneration and rising cost of raw material, in order to sustain their families while carrying forward the tradition of handloom weaving. This is possible only when they are connected to the market directly and made aware of their rights as skilled workers. It is time to build their future!