A move is on to repeal The Handloom Reservation Act, which since 1985 has been protecting traditional handloom weaves, especially saris, from being copied by their machine-made and powerloom competitors. It was a small but important protection for handloom weavers, who otherwise struggle to survive. Their yarn, their designs and their markets are under attack.
Now the powerful powerloom lobby is agitating to have this Act withdrawn. Meetings and consultations have been held, largely without the inclusion of handloom-sector representatives, and our representations and queries have gone unanswered.
One powerloom lobbyist at the meeting allegedly said that "we have progressed from the firewood chula to gas and electric stoves. If we need to hang on to technologies from our grandparents times, it is a mark of regression. Our children will laugh at us." Another claimed that "the customer prefers cheaper powerloom sari".
We need to challenge the statement that handloom is not viable in the market. This ignores the facts. Obviously the market has shifted from rural to urban, but it is a growing one, and we have figures to support that. This despite problems faced by weavers in yarn procurement and market access. Over the last five years the sale of handlooms has actually increased. Huge sales and eager footfalls at exhibitions organised by Dastkar, Sanatkada, and the Crafts Councils bear witness. Globally too, as understanding of the ecological properties and design virtuosity of hand-spun and hand-woven textiles grows, more and more international buyers look to India as a source. How tragic that instead of investing in this potential we are seeking to destroy it.
So why not powerloom, the lay person may ask. Isn't it cheaper, quicker and less laborious to weave?
To say that because we have powerlooms, we don't need handlooms is really so silly. To take the chula analogy, it's like saying because we have microwave ovens we don't need tandoors. Each serves its own unique purpose, and it's the Indian tandoor that creates our unique Indian cuisine and draws tourists and foodies. The handloom can create thousands of distinctive regional weaves and designs that no powerlooms can replicate, plus a tactile wonderful drape that is also irreplaceable by mechanised means.
How tragic that instead of investing in this potential we are seeking to destroy it.
If we remove the protection and incentives for handloom weavers to continue weaving their traditional products and saris, we would suddenly be bereft of our past. Each weave has a cultural tradition and a story, each one links us to our social and cultural roots. We would literally be naked without them.
Handloom lovers, it's time to raise your voice.