National Handloom Day: Honoring The Artistry Of The Weavers
WHAT IS HANDLOOM?
“Handloom” refers to the wooden frames, used by skilled artisans to weave fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, jute among others. It is a cottage industry in India, dating back to the Indus valley civilization. Even in ancient times, Indian fabrics were exported to countries like Rome, Egypt and China. Since colonization by European nations, India had turned into an exporter of raw cotton and an importer of machine-made finished goods.
HOW DID THE WEAVERS FALL IN THE FACE OF STRUGGLE?
British authorities resorted to violence and legal coercion to exploit resourcing of cheap raw materials for their textile industry. With cheap labour (since workers were extremely low-paid), mill-made goods also had a competitive edge over handlooms. These factors resulted in a complete loss of livelihoods first for the spinners, and dependence of handloom weavers on machine yarn.
THE BIRTH OF KHADI :
As yarn procurement from distant regions posed a logistical hurdle, yarn dealers and financiers became necessary. And as the average weaver had little credit, the industry fell more and more into the grip of intermediaries. Thus the independence of most weavers disappeared. And a vast majority of them came to work for a trader on contract or wage basis. Therefore weavers went from being the owners of their craft to being wage workers.
Despite this, the Indian handloom proved itself to be resilient. Gandhi, along with other leaders of the Indian self-rule struggle, and started the Swadeshi Movement. He also reintroduced hand-spinning in the name of “Khadi”. Every Indian was urge to spin the yarn using charkhas and wear Khadi. This was a significant turning point for the handloom industry, as people immolated imported clothes and chose to wear Khadi.
WHY ARE THE WEAVERS STRUGGLING NOW?
After years of flourishing, it is again facing problems due to the 1991 economic policies. The handloom sector had to face competition from cheap imports, and design imitations from power loom. In addition to that, government funding and policy protection also declined drastically. In comparison to artificial fiber, the cost of natural fabric has risen. This makes the prices of handloom products rise and the demand for it decreases. Unable to compete with cheaper poly-mixed fabrics, many weavers are quitting weaving and going for unskilled labour work. And many have been reduce to extreme poverty.
India’s weaving fraternity is of over four million weavers, including its allied production workers. It is the second-largest employer next to the agricultural sector. Out of 89% of the adult weavers, 49% are of the age group of 18 to 35 years, 21% are of 36 to 45 years, 15% are of 46 to 60 years, and 4% are of 60 years and above. This phenomenon is likely to be a big challenge unless the handloom sector attracts more young generation in this trade.
Quality Of Life
By nature of employment, there are 61% independent weavers. And 34% under master weavers private owners and only 5% under institutional work. Average earnings of the weavers are Rs. 3400 per month as against all India average of Rupees Four thousand Five hundred per month. And far below the wages as per the minimum wage act for an unskilled worker.
The quality of life of a handloom weaver is far below, compared to an untrained, semi-skilled or skilled worker of any organization. There is not much technology induction in the handloom sector due to the limited research and inherent scope. The traditional techniques are still most popular, resulting in the existing constraints remaining unresolved. This applies to pre-loom, on the loom as well as the post-loom stage. As a result, hand weaving remains labour-intensive, low productive etc. as ever.
IS THE TREND OF THE HANDLOOM SECTOR DECLINING?
The third handloom census (2010) indicates that the handloom industry of India is not in a very healthy state. The key indicators are alarmingly challenging for the sustainability of the handloom sector. With the apparent change of mindset from traditional to modernity, it is becoming increasingly evident that the handloom is likely to become a museum piece of the craft of history shortly. The decline rate of 7% per year in several weavers, during the past years is a clear indication of the sun-setting trend of the handloom sector.
On the positive side, the third census shows a rise in the number of handloom households, from Twenty-five lakhs in the second census to 27.8 lakhs; an increase of about 11%. Of the total handloom households, 87% being rural and 13% being urban. Overall, there is a gap, and this gap will create more demand, attracting more selective and passionate weavers to enjoy the genuine craft of the looms.
WHY WOULD YOU SWITCH TO HANDLOOM PRODUCTS?
Due to manual operations, several combinations are possible in handlooms with intricate designs. The functional properties like drape, texture, strength, wrinkle resistance, dominant stability etc. can be ingeniously manipulate. Through the use of appropriate designs, particular types of fabrics used, thick density, type of weave, type of fashion, and process employed in printing, handlooms are highly customizable and thus can appeal to everyone’s taste.
The clothes made from excellent and delicate material can be woven more safely on the handloom owing to the comparative lightness of jerks. The polish of the garments interwoven with gold or silver thread can be taken out by extremely frictional action of power looms.
On the contrary, handlooms are ideally suited for such work — clothes with multi-coloured designs most suited to handlooms. Garments with embellishment in the border and heading and entire body with delicate designs in various colours which call for individual schemes can be ideally woven on handlooms.
Due to the widely perceived need to check greenhouse gas emissions, the case for handloom cloth is becoming stronger by the day. If handloom cloth can be linked closely to organic cultivation of non-genetically modify cotton, its strength as eco-friendly cloth can become much more durable.
National Handloom Weaver’s Day
The Union government had declared August 7 as the National Handloom Day in July 2015 to generate awareness about the importance of the handloom industry. August 7 was chosen as the National Handloom Day to commemorate the Swadeshi Movement which was launched on this day in 1905 in the Calcutta Town hall to protest against the partition of Bengal by the British Government. The movement had aimed at reviving domestic products and production processes.
Handloom is a national treasure. When you buy a handloom, you’re not just buying a product. You are contributing to the history and heritage of your nation. Bhavyata Foundation takes upon the project of reviving Traditions of India with such a passion that provides simultaneous livelihood and lifeline to various art forms in India. We need the handloom the same way we need the wisdom of our forefathers. As it runs down through the generations, to our children and theirs, it teaches us the value and everlasting beauty of Indian culture and Tradition.