Indian handloom weavers face uncertain future

Himalayan News Service

Mubarakpur, January 23:

Driven to despair by large-scale textile imports from China, traditional handloom and power loom weavers in Uttar Pradesh are battling for survival. With thousands of looms simply shutting down, weavers are taking desperate measures to make both ends meet, reports Grassroots Features.

One of them, Mohammed Umair of Bajedian village, has been forced to sell his blood because he has no other source of income. Another, Ghulam Rasool, and his wife of Kotwan village were forced to sell their young son for Rs 2,000 Indian Currency (IC).

“The weavers here find themselves in a death trap,” said Mushtaq, whose family owned 25 looms a long time ago. Today Mushtaq runs a grocery shop. He does not regret the change. “Most looms have closed and the 20,000 odd that still operate struggle for survival,” he said.

“Loom workers are starving in east Uttar Pradesh,” complained Atique Ansari, the general secretary of a weaver’s association.

Textile historian Rita Kapur Chisti’s recent study of 12 districts in east Uttar Pradesh confirms the tragic state of affairs. “The Chinese dragon is spitting fire on Indian looms. Cheap substitutes made in China and (South) Korea are dumped in the country, especially in Uttar Pradesh,” she pointed out. Machine-made, printed cotton textiles from these countries are also pouring in. In Varanasi, famous for its silk saris, Chinese silk imitations are available for Rs 9 IC per metre, while the Indian fabric ranges between Rs 30 IC and Rs 150 IC per metre. In desperation, many weavers have taken to rickshaw pulling. Several have opened tea stalls. Many others have migrated to Bangalore and Hyderabad where they work on the still functioning looms. “At least they are better off,” said Uma Shankar of Madhiapur village, whose two children — Chandan (9) and Malka (7) — are undergoing treatment for tuberculosis. “But you need money to migrate, and contacts too. Here we are left to starve and die.” Handloom weaving in India is still largely a village cottage industry. Estimates of numbers employed in the sector vary from 6.5 million to 12.5 million. Nearly 13 per cent of these people are in Uttar Pradesh.

The weavers are interlocked in a three-tier structure. An ordinary weaver works either on his own or on the master weaver’s loom. The master weaver supplies the raw material and design and pays the former’s wages. The last link is the trader. He buys the finished product from the master weaver and retails it. According to the Directorate General of Handlooms, of the 2.3 million full-time weavers, slightly less than half are independent weavers. About 340,000 work under a master weaver and 450,000 are members of co-operatives. In most parts of the country, the men weave full-time. Women are involved mostly in post-loom operations such as bleaching, dyeing, finishing and embroidery. The first blow to the weavers came from power looms.

“This made a large number of handloom weavers shift to the power loom,” said Ansari. But the power loom’s heydays ended when the Indian government allowed free import of Chinese plain crepe fabrics six years ago.