It appears that the gentle rhythm of handlooms in Chendamangalam, a sleepy hamlet near here known for its fine fabric patterns and unique inlays, is fast dying down.
With the daily average income of weavers remaining only half of the earning of casual labourers, the traditional cottage industry here has lost a major share of its workforce to the construction sector.
According to estimates, over the last decade the sector has experienced a decline in the number of weavers from over 5,000 to less than 1,000.
The average daily income of Rs.150, of which a certain share goes for preparing the ‘Paavu' (warp), is making life difficult for the weavers here, says T.S. Baby, president of the Paravur Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society.
He attributes the crisis experienced by the sector to the stiff competition from power looms, lack of working capital and proper sales strategy, combined with an acute shortage of labour.
C.V. Ajith Kumar, secretary of the Chendamangalam-Karimpadam Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society, says that the raw materials of handloom clothes like hank yarn, thread, dye and so on are exorbitantly priced. He says that though the State government, through the Industries Department, has been providing various welfare measures to the weavers that are not enough to attract the youth to this profession.
For the seven co-operative societies in the region, producing the ‘Chendamangalam' brand handloom, the meagre income received from the occasional sales is not enough to pay remuneration to the weavers. The societies are working on the basis of ‘Noolum Kooliyum' by which the agencies distribute raw materials and procure the final product for sale.
The paucity of skilled labour has also resulted in a sizable decline in overall production, which, in turn affected the total turnover. “The annual turnover of each of the handloom societies has been reduced to about Rs.30-40 lakh from the Rs.1 crore in 2002,'' says Raju, a weaver for the past 20 years.
Further, the sector has also failed to catch up with the changes in the market post- liberalisation. “The product bears a huge demand from a wide variety of customers, including multi-national companies, but given the present state of affairs, we are unable to meet their demand,'' according to office-bearers of the societies.
They suggest partial mechanisation, regulation of raw-material prices and better wages for the weavers and ancillary workers to tide over the crisis.
In addition, professional management and marketing strategies are also needed, they point out.