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Powerlooms edge handloom sector out

Manikankana Sengupta

G. Chandrashekhar, Secretary, Mysore Provincial Silk Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society Ltd

 The country’s handloom industry is under serious threat with the increasing popularity of powerlooms. Attempts to revive the craft have been successful to a certain extent, evident from the increased use of traditional handloom textiles in the fashion industry. But, for most part, weavers are still struggling to make ends meet.

G. Chandrashekhar, Secretary, Mysore Provincial Silk Handloom Weavers’ Co-operative Society Ltd, spoke to The Observer about the various issues plaguing the handloom industry in India. “Wages and production have been going down in the past 20 years. 

Earlier, people from all over the country would come to visit us, but from the 1990s, after globalization and liberalization, business started going down. The imposition of GST has further worsened the situation.”

Speaking about the distress of weavers he said: “Handloom weaving is a slow process. It depends entirely on the skill of the weaver. It takes 2-3 days for a weaver to complete a saree. Powerlooms, on the other hand, work a lot faster.

A powerloom can produce 2-3 sarees in a day. Another crisis the industry is facing is that there is a dearth of skilled weavers as the new generation does not want to join the profession.

The health risks that are a part and parcel of this job are one of reasons for this. A weaver works for 12-13 hours a day putting extreme strain on his eyes. Weavers often suffer damage to their eyesight.”

“Handloom weavers get around Rs 800 per saree, while for powerloom workers, it is Rs 300. So the cost of production for powerlooms is much less. Though our society gives weavers Rs 800 per saree, individual master weavers pay much less.

Kodandaram, 60, a weaver from Kudur village in Magadi taluk of Ramanagara district, echoed Chandrashekhar’s views. “I do not have any work for two or three months every year. It’s difficult because I do not have anything to do during that time. I have been working in the industry for 30 years, so am a little slow now. But I have to keep doing this job as I need to take care of my family. It’s hard work but I have to do it. I tried using a powerloom 3-4 years ago. However, I couldn't continue because powerlooms have a very high volume. I have health issues and I couldn't adjust to that. My eyesight has deteriorated.”

Rajni Iyengar, who works with Gaatakatha, an NGO involved in the welfare of handloom weavers, spoke about the current situation of the handloom industry.

“Handloom weavers are losing their jobs with the advent of powerlooms. The next generation is not willing to come into the profession. They are going to cities for other jobs. As a result, a number of looms are closing down. Many weavers have committed suicide because they have no other jobs to take up.”