KERALA

Balaramapuram handlooms set for comeback

The ayurvedic dye house at Thumpode in Balaramapuram. Photo: S. Mahinsha

The ayurvedic dye house at Thumpode in Balaramapuram. Photo: S. Mahinsha  

BALARAMAPURAM, SEPT. 7. The weavers of Balaramapuram, the bustling hamlet in the suburbs known for its skilled artisans, are getting ready to storm the international market with textiles coloured by natural dyes.

Only too aware of the curbs on export of textiles using synthetic dyes scheduled to come into effect from January 1, 2005, the industry has taken the first but significant step by having already chosen to switch over to ayurvedic or natural dyes. An ayurvedic dye house has been set up by the Handloom Weavers Development Society (HLWDS), with aid from the Japanese Government, at Thumpode in Balaramapuram. Balaramapuram is thus set to regain its lost glory. The 1 lakh-odd weavers are getting ready to bid adieu to poverty thanks to the newly launched programme that aims at their economic development and empowerment.

Japanese aid

The endeavour of the HLWDS to popularise natural dyes materialised with the Japanese Government providing US $ 40,218 under its Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects in 2002. According to the chief technician, K.Satheesh Kumar, the weavers in Kerala traditionally used ayurvedic dyes, but over the years had to shift to synthetic dyes. "Awareness the world over about the harmful effects of such dyes has prompted them to return to natural dyes once again. Once the restrictions on exporting cloths made of synthetic dyes comes into force next year, Balaramapuram will emerge as the hub of handloom exports," he said.

The HLWDS is an organisation working for the uplift of the traditional weavers of the hamlet since 1980. With the decline of the industry, the weavers faced the prospect of abject penury. They were unaware of the scope and benefits of diversification and that is where the society has been rendering a yeoman's service for bettering the lot of the traditional weavers. The Japanese Government, as one of the components of the Official Development Assistance, provides aid to NGOs for programmes that are aimed at the development of grassroots sections in society. The Consulate General of Japan based in Chennai deals with similar programmes covering the four southern States. Since its inception, assistance worth US $ 4,226,313 has been provided to 75 projects in south India. This also includes the projects in Kollam, Ernakulam and Kozhikode.

Ayurvedic dyes

The ayurvedic dyes are made from medicinal plant and fibres and the colours do not fade, according to the weavers. A small unit set up by HLWDS has already started producing garments, saris, bedspreads and mattresses and they are in great demand within the country and abroad. "W have not established a full-fledged unit and therefore we are finding it difficult to meet the rising demand," Mr.Satheesh Kumar said.

The society is now procuring medicinal plants, tubers and barks from the market run by tribals at Plavetti.

According to the Consul General of Japan in Chennai, Ryuzo Kikuchi, who inaugurated the dye house, once the project covering 58 villages goes on stream, at least one lakh weavers would benefit.

The motto that drives the programme is "a loom for a family and job for everyone". At present, this is expected to provide employment to 767 weavers directly and 5,498 others indirectly.

Strangely enough, the State Government has not so far contributed the Rs. 1 crore sanctioned by the Central Government for the programme about nine months back. Repeated reminders to the State Government to release the Central Government allocation has fallen on deaf ears, society members said.

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