A cursory look at the fact files is enough to give an idea of the sheer size of the Indian handloom sector and its contribution in the rural economy.
By V.K. Saxena
August marks the beginning of festivities as the country celebrates the Independence Day, the Parsi New Year, Onam, Raksha Bandhan and Janmashtami this month. In the latest episode of his radio program Mann ki Baat on 25th July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a fervent appeal to also celebrate the National Handloom Day on August 7, which commemorates the Swadeshi Movement, cherishes the heritage Indian crafts and celebrates the colourful weaves of India.
When an artisan runs his loom, he not only produces a piece of cloth but also expresses the one-ness of India’s multi-hued ethnicity and creates sustainability for the rural economy on which the edifice of a self-reliant India is built. A piece of cloth woven by an artisan opens vast employment avenues for a large number of allied workers engaged in the Khadi and handloom industry. No other sector in this country imbibes the collaboration, cooperation and inclusiveness of such huge magnitude as the handloom industry and particularly the Khadi sector does. So aptly, PM Modi has equated supporting Khadi and handloom sector with “Nation Building” and “service to the public and the nation”.
A cursory look at the fact files is enough to give an idea of the sheer size of the Indian handloom sector and its contribution in the rural economy. After agriculture, the handloom industry is the second largest source of employment in rural India providing nearly 50 lakh people with jobs. India contributes nearly 95% of the world’s hand-woven fabric. Over 70 per cent of Khadi and handloom weavers and allied workers are women and hence, a key to women empowerment. The countryside of India’s Eastern and North Eastern regions has more than 50 per cent of total number of weavers and handloom is also the only source of livelihood for a large number of tribal population residing in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand and in the NE states.
Furthermore, Khadi and handloom sectors have the potential of creating the maximum employments in the remotest geographies of this country – Bali Island in Sunderbans, Chullyu and Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, Kaziranga in Assam, Likir and Kargil in Leh-Ladakh, Kutch in Gujarat and many more places – where no government agency could ever reach since Independence.
Volumes can be written on the sheer varieties of the fabric made by Khadi and handloom artisans – the uber-fine muslin of West Bengal to the exquisite Pashmina of Jammu & Kashmir, from Eri and Muga Silk of the North East to the Kanjivaram of South, from the Patola of Gujarat to Ponduru of Andhra Pradesh and from Matka and Tassar Silk of Bihar to Paithani of Maharashtra.
It is, however, the collective responsibility of every Indian to sustain this vastness and multi-dimensionality of the Indian handloom sector. Mere applause would make no difference in the lives of our weavers but patronizing their crafts would surely do. We must learn from the foreign countries where people popularized their local products to make them the leading brands of the world.
The journey of luxury brand Mont Blanc began from a small village in Germany and fuelled by the local support, crossed the borders of Germany and Europe to become a global brand. Switzerland manufactures the best handcrafted watches in the world. Likewise, Indian artisans produce the finest silk in the world. Every state in the county has a peculiar weave. Pashmina Shawls of J&K, Lippan Kaam of Kutch, Madhubani art of Bihar, Gond tribal art of Madhya Pradesh, Phulkari of Punjab, bamboo craft of the North East and marble and stone craft of Rajasthan are just a few heritage crafts with immense global potential. The need is to be vocal for our local handicrafts and not shy away from patronizing them.
And while the people do their bit, concrete measures like securing GI tags, trademark and patent registration for the unique products on part of the government authorities would ensure protection of the Indian local brands as has been done by Khadi Commission in the last 7 years. This is crucial for preventing the Chinese imitation of Indian crafts that has dealt a severe blow to the handloom artisans.
Market revitalization becomes a requirement when productivity goes up. At Khadi, we took it upon us on a mission to strengthen the marketing of Khadi products through thousands of our outlets as well as through e-portal to connect to a larger consumer base. Likewise, we must unleash the market potential of the entire handloom sector to ensure fair and steady income to the artisans.
Supporting local entrepreneurs, artists, craftsmen, weavers should come naturally to us. The festival of Raksha Bandhan is round the corner. This year, let’s pledge to support two sisters – one in your family and the other, who is weaving the fabric for “self-reliance” in some remote corner of the country. This festival let us buy Khadi or handloom products to shower love for one sister and create livelihood for the other.
(The author is Chairman, Khadi & Village Industries Commission. Views expressed are the author’s own.)