Opinion » Comment

Updated: August 31, 2013 00:49 IST

Doomed by definition

B. Syama Sundari
Comment (2)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Forty-four lakh weavers continue to be targeted with the same schemes and welfare measures that have not improved their condition. Photo: S. Gopakumar.
Forty-four lakh weavers continue to be targeted with the same schemes and welfare measures that have not improved their condition. Photo: S. Gopakumar.

The move to redefine 'handloom' is in the interest of powerloom operators who will be able to corner benefits meant for weavers

“Any loom, other than powerloom; and includes any hybrid loom on which, at least one process for weaving requires manual intervention or human energy for production.”

(The new definition of handloom proposed by Ministry of Textiles)

The textile industry in India comprises three sectors — the mill, the powerloom and the handloom. Of the total textile production in the country, powerlooms contribute 61.32 per cent, the mills 3.34 per cent and handlooms 11.28 per cent.

The recent proposal for the change of definition of handlooms offers different things to these different sectors. The powerloom industry, for instance, can now claim the status of handloom, as including one manual process in production is not a difficult proposition. With this small revision, the benefits and budgets allocated for handlooms can be accessed legitimately by the powerloom sector. It might as well be a quiet end for the handloom sector as far as state support is concerned. It is being done in a subtle manner and has been justified by the Textile Ministry as stated in this press report: “Experience over the years has shown that the numbers of handlooms as well as handloom weavers are declining sharply, and especially the younger generation is not willing to continue or enter into this profession owing to low generation of income and hard labour required to operate looms, a ministry official said (…) A substantial population of handloom weavers are still living in poor conditions” (Indian Express, May 27, 2013).

Ignored sector

The handloom census conducted by the government in 2010 did in fact show a decline in total looms and a reduction of new entries into the sector. This did not, however, motivate the officials and policy makers to debate the reasons for the decline. There was no initiative to speak to weaver representatives, co-operatives and other players in the handloom sector to understand the issues and evolve a plan to address the problems. The existing 44 lakh weavers continue to be targeted with the same schemes and welfare measures. Considerable migration from the sector, also evidenced by the census, proves that earlier schemes and measures have not improved their condition either.

The cluster scheme for handloom weavers that was introduced in 2008 is an excellent example of this. In its five years of existence it has not bettered the skills of the weavers, has not improved the connectivity to markets and definitely has not built appropriate infrastructure for increasing efficiency in the sector. Instead of coalescing different schemes into the single cluster scheme as was done through the projects announced in the 12th Five-Year Plan, it would have been better to design schemes that would approach the issue differently.

The real problem is in the identification of factors affecting production in the handloom industry. There is no sincerity of purpose to understand the concerns from the point of view of that industry. Take the case of infrastructure: it is evident that the needs of a decentralised production like in the handloom industry will have to be specialised. Centralised infrastructure will work only for certain processes, while the rest of the processes have to be handled differently. This does not reflect in the design of any of the schemes promoting infrastructure.

Now, two years after the census results, we hear an announcement from the Ministry which spells death for the handloom industry. The new move, according to officials, would enable the existing handloom weavers to upgrade (read mechanise) their looms without losing the benefits available to handloom weavers under various government schemes. Ostensibly, this move is to rescue “poor” handloom weavers from drudgery but history shows that the various schemes floated by the Department of Handlooms in the name of upgrades have never yielded any positive result.

The introduction of frame looms and stand looms is a classic example of this. These were introduced two decades ago as alternatives to pit looms but both have yielded poor results due to technical problems. There was never an assessment of the difficulties faced by the weaver in adapting to the new looms. The failure only added more baggage to the travails of the handloom weaver, who continues to be characterised as backward and resistant to change. It is safe to conclude that the new move of changing the ‘definition of handloom’ is not directed at helping the handloom weaver, but at bringing the powerloom into the orbit of handlooms.

Was there an existing confusion as to what defines handloom? If there was, it was not voiced in any forum, nor did it come for discussion during the several pre-budget consultations with stakeholders in the Planning Commission.

It is a fact that the textile sector is not doing well, that exports are declining and India has not been able to take advantage of the declining presence of China in the global textile market. There are multiple factors affecting the Indian textile industry: allowing duty-free import of garments and failure to curb increasing raw material costs, coupled with weak demand from overseas markets due to the global economic slowdown, are some.

Imagined faults

The allegation of failure to service large orders in the export market should apply only to the powerloom sector, which plays the key role in textile exports. The role of the handloom industry in blocking achievements of scale in the textile industry is purely imaginary. All the issues affecting the textile industry cannot be laid at the door of handlooms, and redefining the sector to increase the stake of powerloom is a poor solution. It is time that the government put an end to paying lip service to the sector and conducted an impartial assessment of the contribution of handlooms to the domestic market. They need to evaluate the function of handloom in preventing migrations from the rural areas, creating skilled employment opportunities in the villages. Handloom should be supported on its own merits and not as a burden of heritage to be carried into the 21st century.

(The writer is associated with Dastkar Andhra, a voluntary organisation working to promote handloom weaving as a viable rural livelihood. She is the co-author of the book Traditional Industry in the New Market Economy: Cotton Handlooms of Andhra Pradesh. E-mail:


The craft of survivalOctober 22, 2014

Rs. 3884 cr package for handloom weaversMarch 16, 2012

More In: Comment | Opinion

Modern machines never understands the intricate patterns and tapestry
of hand looms.Changing definitions on hand loom is an attempt to
institutionalize hand loom. History has shown that tempering age old
practices with modern and mechanized ethos leads to disappointments.
Results of such attempts on variety of trade-crafts were/are still not
very welcoming. My hunches is that governments intrusion on age old
hand loom will leads to easy availability of hand loom products in the
market. I believe; rather than easy availability, it will lead to
downhill effect on production of beautiful fabrics of hand looms.

from:  N.William
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 16:12 IST

The same definition holds good for all the categories of looms including shuttleless looms in which the warp and weft mending operations can be carried out only by manual intervention. There is yet no device or mechanism available to carry out these operations automatically. Silk and carpet weaving are the fabric categories give a reasonable remuneration to the weavers indulging in this trade.
So there is a heightened possibility that even shuttleless looms sector too can claim the benefits meant for the handloom sector. Some of the delicate and finest varieties of the fabrics only require handlooms All other categories of fabrics can be mass produced in auto looms or in shuttleless looms. It is obvious
by using the handlooms for ordinary categories fabrics no section of the society gets benefited.
except probably politicians who pretend shedding tears over the plight of the hand loom weavers now and then. Now is the time to debate the relevance of handloom sector for non remunerative fabrics which gobbles up huge subsidy and keeps that segment of the population under penury.

As in every trade a structural change and labour shifting is taking place in weaving sector too. There is no surprise in the educated youths opting for more comfortable work friendly environment which will be certainly not like the handloom sector where the labourers have to exert himself continuously for the whole of work shift which is taxing too much on the health of the workers. A cursory socio economic survey in and around Kanche puram will reveal the pathetic plight of the people who wanted to get rid off their debts got eternally sucked into this vortex.
So far the many of trades and traits which are associated with certain communities are drifting away from this stamp after being mechanized and shifted to factory system of production . Viewing some communities under the prism of their traditional trade and trait will be no longer right.. For example leather products manufacturing , Fabric and Garment production in which people from every segment of the society now a days’ work .

from:  A.Thirugnanasambantham
Posted on: Aug 31, 2013 at 14:26 IST
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

A look at what happened on today's date from our archives of 1965. For the first time in its history, the famous Jog Falls in Karnataka have gone "dry".

Read more »



Recent Article in Comment

People at the protest rally over the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl in a public school, and increase in assault, rape and sexual aggression against women, at the Freedom Park, in Bangalore on July 20, 2014. — Photo: K. Murali Kumar

What enables rape reporting?

The Nirbhaya agitation of 2012 not only removed the stigma surrounding rape but also gave women the hope that their complaint would be heard. »