Today is National Handloom Day. Swadeshi Movement was launched on this very day i.e. 7th August, 1905. Handloom reflects the glorious traditions of Indian Textile Industry and an era of self reliance in the area of garment production and fashion. History is replete with instances of Indian textiles occupying high demand within Indian borders and far across the oceans. Handloom is also a significant source of livelihood which holds capacity to empower artisans associated with the profession. It is estimated that 70% of all handloom weavers and allied workers in India are women. However, being a household activity and entrenched in rural backgrounds, imperfect and often cheap imitations through power looms and illegal inroads through mills have brought this sector into a state of slow decay and death.
I belong to Kerala and hail from the district of Palakkad. For several centuries handloom weaves from the Villages of Kollengode, Chittoor, Devangapuram, Kallanchira, Neelikkad and Karimpuza in this district have been great demand. In the pre-Independent India dress material including sarees, dhoties, towels and cloth lengths were weaved and marketed to rest of Kerala and other princely states from this district. However, post independent India saw weavers joining hands and pooling resources into cooperatives to run these handloom centers. However, piling up losses and lack of income in the profession led youth from these villages to move away from this profession and its slow death.
Today we see that polyester, artificial yarn and multitude of textile materials have emerged across the world as viable medium of fabric. However the ‘comfort and breathe’ factor of handloom can never be equated with any alternate textile material. Use of hand looms in weaving spectacular patterns not just enable large sections of labour to be gainfully employed in this profession but also props up local creative talents in design setting, pattern development and manual colour coding. Use of local motifs, shades and designs sublimely carry the flavor of its local community into the hearts of textile users.
India sits on a treasure trove of indigenous cultural richness. Each state in this country has its unique tradition and contribution in handloom weaving. Ikat from Odhisha, Bandhani (tie and dye), Patan Patola from Gujarat, Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Brocades of Uttar Pradesh, Zari works from Madhya Pradesh, Kancheevaram from Tamil Nadu, Kantha stitches from West Bengal, Kosa from Chattisgarh, Kunbi from Goa, Lepcha from Sikkim, Pachaculi from Uttarakhnd, Pachra from Tripura, North East Weaves prominent from Mizoram, Nagaland apart from multitudes of patterns, styles and textures like sambhalpuri, Muga, Maheshwari, chanderi and Khadi makes India a well defined centre from Handlooms.
Yet the real story of handlooms can be seen from the dwindling number of families engaged in this profession. Surveys show that while 124 lakh weaver families were engaged in this profession in 1970s their numbers reduced to 64 lakhs in 1995 and it dwindled further down to 44 lakhs in 2010. The narrative of Policy vs production techniques have seriously impacted handlooms in our country. While introduction of standard yarn into our country in the 1840s changed the course of handlooms, replacement of natural yarn with synthetic ones for use by power looms further played havoc with this segment. Global players and technology has further robbed local identities. Today artificial dyes coupled with computer controlled looms, churning out global designs and textures in a copy paste environment, has brought the entire economics of handlooms into a grinding halt. No amount of protection or unique identification is able to save the handlooms from extermination from one roof global operators.
Need of the hour is identity ability to distinguish ‘real from an imitation’. The responsibility of a buyer increases with the awareness of purchase of a real product not a cheap copy. Price alone should not be a consideration for purchase but a larger emotional attachment with the product being bought. Buying a Handloom product should be more than a symbolic gesture of helping a needy weaver but it should be a nationalist move to revive our rich culture and traditions of our nation by empowering our local talent and rural weavers.
Story of our Loom would be incomplete without a simple picture of Charkha. Time has come when we join hands to help the spirit of enterprise spread amongst the rural weaver folk and support weavers and handloom by buying truly hand woven fabrics made in our country.