Handloom textiles are sought after in the domestic and foreign market, but both Centre and states have done precious little to improve the living conditions of traditional weavers

The Textile Ministry is convening a conclave today in Delhi to enlist the support of India Inc. to source products from domestic handlooms and handicrafts for corporate gifting. The exhibition christened Hastkala Conclave is seen to be a launching pad and platform so that industry is sensitized to the need for bolstering traditional products from the land. This move is only one facet as the Development Commissioner Mr.S.S.Gupta was on record that “the workers and their families can be provided support for improving their living conditions” by Indian firms.

That the country’s hoary and traditional industries such as handlooms deserve all the support is not in the least in any doubt. But in practice, the plight of legions of handloom weavers across the country continues to be grim with their future dim and dismal. The government can plead with the corporate honchos by appealing to their corporate social responsibility (CSR) in doing novel things such as sourcing their gifts from traditional industries. But this in way detracts the responsibility that devolves on the government to ensure that the deplorable living levels of weavers, given to customary practice of weaving in leg-driven shuttles with dexterous mobility of hands to churn out exotic piece of handloom textiles, is improved.

Only recently, the CPI Member Mr. P.Lingam highlighted in the Lok Sabha the deplorable conditions of legions of weavers in general and in Tamil Nadu in particular. He said globalization and liberalization of the economy helped only powerful and organized mills and the units of the decentralized powerlooms, even as the handloom weavers were getting marginalized. He pointed out that while small and individual weavers who do not belong to primary weavers cooperatives are in no way the beneficiary of the welfare schemes purported for handloom weavers both by the Centre and by the States, those who are under the cooperative fold are also not getting substantive support.

According to Mr. Lingam, the Centre introduced way back in 1975 the Handloom Weavers’ Savings and Security Scheme with matching contributions from both the Centre and the States so that social security cover is provided to them. Accordingly, a sum equal to four per cent of their daily wages was to be contributed both by the Central and State governments to weavers belonging to primary weavers cooperatives. But as the 2007 global financial meltdown hit the Indian economy too, the Centre ceased making its mite to this scheme, he said adding that in Tamil Nadu this sum is around Rs 5 crore per year to benefit only 76,000 weavers of cooperative societies.

Tamil Nadu has 4.60 lakh handloom weavers of which 2.60 lakh are in the cooperative fold. But, the norms governing eligibility to benefit by the scheme such as two years of continuous employment and other officialesce is too complex to comprehend, only 76,000 weavers are governed by the scheme, warranting a simplified set of norms. . The cessation of Centre’s contribution since 2007 meant even these weavers numbering less than a lakh are deprived of their small nest egg when times are hard.

Mr. Lingam said that the government has big bailout package for stressed industries or other vocal segments which wrest their dues. It also helped modernization and upgradation of organised textile mills and powerloom units but is averse to fork out Rs 15 crore a year for the weal of handloom weavers across the country. As handloom textiles are esteemed by patrons abroad for their unique hand-crafted textures and alluring designs, it is but unfortunate that both the Centre and the state governments which boast of inclusive approach to development are ignoring such artisans and craftsperson from traditional and heritage industries.

The weavers are without means but their nimble hands have always wrought wonderful works to the lasting delight of customers, both domestic and overseas. There is all the more reason for the Ministry of Textiles to get its act together to help the less fortunate weavers instead of pleading with industry to gift handlooms and handicrafts. Unless the weavers have the wherewithal to churn out their magic products, where will the industry buy from, commented a concerned civil society member.

geeyes34@thehindu.co.in