Uncertainty looms large over their future

R. Krishnamoorthy

TIRUCHI : Clatter of looms is fast diminishing in the villages of Manalmedu and Kondiampalai near Thottiyam where handloom weaving was the mainstay only a decade ago.

Handloom weavers, who once made a decent living out of the cycle of buying yarn, weaving cloths, and selling them for a comfortable margin, have now been reduced to undertaking job works for wholesale handloom garment dealers belonging to Erode, and Palladam in Coimbatore district.

Proliferation of powerloom in the western districts and its inherent advantages of cost-effective manufacture of cloths on a large scale have hit them hard.

They see no alternative in forming cooperatives and establishing powerlooms in the villages for their survival not only due to the cost factor, but also because it is technology driven, leaving no scope for large-scale employment they desire.

Though bereft of market for handlooms in the country, the wholesale dealers provide job work for these weavers, with an eye on export. The payment is Rs. 1,500 for manufacturing 100 metres of cloth. Only handfuls of looms remain in these villages, where each household prided itself down the generations as a cottage industry, what with all the family members chipping in with their inherited professional expertise.

These weavers have resigned themselves to fate, unable to withstand the competition. Ironically, the villagers themselves use powerloom products. "Three powerloom-woven dhotis sell for Rs. 100 compared to Rs. 120 for a handloom dhoti. What else can we do to meet our requirements? This being the case, the general trend — preference for powerloom products — is only understandable," sighs Kathalingam, a 50-year old weaver, who still runs the show undertaking job works for wholesale textile dealers.

The future of the upcoming generation is a big question mark. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, Kathalingam knows only too well that he is sailing against the wind by investing on a handloom with a view to securing economic sustenance for his son, who has passed Plus Two. Unable to educate him further, the only other option is letting him find employment in hosiery units at Tirupur.

Over the decade, hundreds of youths have migrated to Tirupur and Erode to find employment in hosiery units and textile mills. Their departure manifests in no small measure in the deserted look of the villages.