Behind every hand-woven exotic silk sari, there is a sad story of a weaver whose hard work does not fetch him enough to live a comfortable life

For over 50 years, R. Sevendra has travelled around 13 kilometres from Bannerghatta to Sampangi Ram Nagar every day, where he weaves dazzling pure silk saris. He is one of the skilled weavers in the small handloom unit in the area.

Sevendra learnt weaving from his father and is proud of being a weaver. However, he does not want his children to follow in his footsteps. This is not surprising, considering the economics.

The exotic saris Sevendra weaves sell for over Rs. 4,000 each, but he earns about Rs. 900 for every sari he weaves, which takes him over a week to complete. The same is the story of Muniswamy, Sevendra's colleague, who also does not want his children to follow his profession.

Dwindling numbers

According to the Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation (KHDC), the number of weavers in the early 2000s was 85,000, but the numbers are less than 12,000 now. Silk weavers among them are a mere 3,000.

K.P. Chikkanna Setty, Sevendra's employer who has six weavers in his unit, says that those running looms have their own set of problems. Though the government has come up with various welfare schemes, only those who have big units have benefitted, he says.

M.D. Lakshmi Narayana Reddy, Chairperson, KHDC, said that the major factor affecting handloom weavers across the State is the lack of proper market. “Weavers who come into the market on their own, without being part of any co-operative societies, get cheated,” he said.

Another factor that has hit handloom weavers hard is the advent of powerloom. While it takes Sevendra over a week to weave a sari, a powerloom weaver weaves two in a day. Parappa G., who runs a powerloom factory in the same area, says that powerloom saris are far cheaper and come in greater variety.

Setty remembers a time when his lane was filled with dozens of handloom manufacturing units, most of which have now either wound up or turned powerlooms.

Another weaver in the area, Veeranna, swears that he prefers handloom over powerloom as the quality of a handloom sari is far superior. However, he firmly says: “But I would not like my son to pursue the same profession. I would like him to study and do something else because money made by weaving is not enough to run a family in a city like Bangalore.” His co-weaver Muniswamy humorously added that a weaver does not get a bride these days.

From outside

While this is the fate of weavers in Bangalore, those from outside have an even tougher time. Many weavers come here from border towns of Karnataka, besides Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, to sell the saris.

D. Muthyalu, a handloom weaver from Dharmavaram, comes almost every week to Bangalore to sell his handloom saris in the hope to earn a little more profit. He says: “It is not that there is no market for my saris in my town, but it is just that I will earn around a hundred or more depending on the design, if I sell it to wholesalers in Bangalore.” G. Narayana Swamy, a weaver from Y.N. Hosakota: “All weavers send their children to school, which is a good thing. But none of them want their children to be weavers.” He added that most weavers would prefer their children to take up any other work, even if it is building construction, as long as they get regular wages.

Ironically, even as weavers are leaving the trade, the demand for handloom saris remains high. V.M. Nagesh, a silk sari dealer based in Chickpet, said that the demand for handloom saris will be met only if more people are trained in weaving. Nagesh himself plans to shift from handloom to powerloom soon.

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