Anyone who lived in Puducherry in the 1960s and 70s, and even before would recognise the work of the Puducherry handloom weavers anywhere. These textiles are world famous, some being exported to foreign countries as well.
Many of these weavers had learnt to work on a loom when they were hardly 10 years old. The courtyard of their houses would have a pit that would house the loom. While the women would usually spin the yarn, the men would work on the loom. Production was very high and there was a sense of pride amongst the community that was concentrated around Muthialpet and parts of Lawspet, explained Kamala, a traditional weaver.
For the weavers who are associated with the Pondicherry State Weavers Cooperative Society, which is an aggregate of several weavers societies across the town, the future seemed set. They would receive thread from the government. The cloth they wove using the same would be bought back by the governmentto be given away to the needy as part of the free sari and lungi scheme, she said.
But this arrangement seems to have fallen through in the past couple of years. They no longer get thread for work. Also the saris and lungis they make are not being bought by the government. As a result, the families that depend on weaving for their livelihood have been forced to seek alternate employment, head of the weavers trade union Rajangam said.
These people, who at one time took pride in their work and preserving the skill through the generations, have now made a decision not to allow their children to take up the trade. They themselves have been forced to work as daily wage labourers in construction sites or in households in order to make ends meet.
The loom, which at one time would run for over 12 hours a day, has now fallen silent, with many households choosing to either let their equipment rot or sell them in parts. In a place where there were 1000s of weavers, there are now less than 600, with the numbers continuing to dwindle, he said.
The weavers have been staging a series of protests and have also spoken to higher officials, but so far there has been no response. Puducherry, which at one time was famous for its handloom textiles, could soon be bereft of its weavers. In this regard, the weaver’s association staged a fast outside the Registrar of Cooperative Societies.