COVID-19 and efforts to contain the pandemic have silenced the famed handlooms of Chendamanangalam.
The silence makes it difficult to believe that it was less than two years ago that the village rose like a phoenix from the epic floods of 2018 which nearly wiped out the iconic industry. The looms had just begun to sing after the 2018 floods and relatively less intense trial by water in 2019 when COVID-19 hit it like a tsunami, wiping out gains from two years of tribulations.
“We were beginning to stand on our feet once again, thanks to all the good people, NGOs, government support, and thriving tourism,” said Ajithkumar Gothuruth, secretary of the Chendamangalam Karimpadam Cooperative Handloom Weavers’ Society, referring to the revival of the weaving sector after the August 2018 floods.
He said after nearly 40 days of stoppage of normal works the looms began to roll on Wednesday with a partial reopening of operations after the lockdown. But weavers were finding it difficult to reach the centralised facility with public transport off the road, he added.
An official of the Industries Department said the department was making an assessment of the situation. He said the weavers sustained substantial losses after the Vishu season sales were washed out. Vishu was celebrated virtually under the lockdown with people beginning to realise the seriousness of the pandemic, which threatened to get out of hand.
Vishu sales hit
T.S. Baby, Hantex board member from Paravoor, said the societies were in a bind with the Vishu season gone and the only hope being the upcoming Onam festivities. “Even these opportunities look dim because who knows how long the efforts to bring the pandemic under control will continue,” he asks.
Besides, he said regular handloom buyers were in a bind too. With less money in hand they would postpone buying new cloths, he said as he called on both the Centre and the State to offer some solace. A financial package that would include cheap loans can help the sector, he added.
Mr. Ajithkumar said the spread of COVID-19 worldwide had brought tourist flow to Muzuris and other centres near Kochi to a trickle. The drying up of the tourist stream had its reflection on handloom sales too, he said.
The five cooperative weavers’ societies around Chendamanangalam and two near Cherai record an annual sales of around ₹4.5 crore.
Around 500 to 550 weavers are involved. They earn about ₹300 a day on an average. But wages for about three months are unpaid along with production incentive of ₹900 a week. The situation is grim and getting the sector moving forward is a big task, he added.