The handloom weavers of Chennamangalam have nothing much to cheer about this Onam season. Even as the festival of plenty approaches, handloom weavers of the famed weaving village near Paravur are waiting on rebate arrears from the State government. Weavers’ societies in the village have not received the rebate sum due from the State government since 2010.

The delay in getting their arrears has worsened the woes of the sector, already under severe financial distress. “We have borrowed from banks for our operations, hoping to repay the sum from the rebate amount. As we wait for government aid, our interest amount keeps mounting. We’re just about paying the interest and cannot even think of repaying the principal now,” said Sojan C.A., secretary of the H47 Chennamangalam Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society.

The society is one of the few cooperatives in the district that has managed to stay afloat despite the hard times. The State government owes the H47 society about Rs.78 lakh in rebate arrears. “We pay around Rs.19 lakh a year towards the loan interest and our annual loss is under Rs.5 lakh. If the government wrote off our loans, we might actually make a profit,” said Mr. Sojan.

The traditional handloom industry has been in crisis in the last two decades due to changing technology and other challenges. Power looms and synthetic materials have introduced cheaper versions of the traditional mundu in the market. Handloom weaving, more labour intensive and time-consuming when compared to newer technologies, has lost a large share of its market. The crisis also pulls people away from the handloom sector, which was traditionally a cottage industry with whole families taking part in different stages of the weaving process. The H47 society has 1065 members, but only 182 still take part in weaving actively.

“My children don’t know how to operate the loom. Never teach your children how to weave cloth. They will never do well,” said Kuttan, who has spent around 40 years in the industry. Until a decade ago, Kuttan had eight others helping him boil, dye, wash and dry the yarn. Two people do the same work today. “In construction, you can make over Rs.500 a day. This work gets you far less. Kuttan has no hopes of getting a pension once he stops working,” said 55-year-old Chandran, who began weaving as a 9-year-old. Their society, however, at least manages to pay them regularly.

Things are far worse in the E1 Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative. The society has had trouble paying people for the completed mundus they supply. “Weavers have to pay those working in associated sectors like yarn washing and bobbin winding from the money we pay them. We have to get around Rs.40 lakh in rebate arrears. We have heavy loans too. We cannot survive unless the government writes off the loans,” said Gireesh Anat, secretary of the cooperative.

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