Weaves of change
There is a quiet revolution brewing in the world of textile and it is happening all around us.
Years ago, as a journalism student, I had visited the weavers of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu for a college deprivation trip. The beautiful craft of the silk, the intricate gold and silver zari work, and the meticulous attention to detail left me stunned, as did the squalid conditions of the weavers' existence. Traditional weavers across the country have struggled to eke out a living. Their art, which often takes few days to complete, has been superseded by modern, convenient clothing. In some hearty news, much has changed in the textile world in the last decade. Consumers like you and me are rediscovering traditional weaves, and hopefully even our own roots.
There is a quiet revolution brewing in the world of textile and it is happening all around us. We are now proudly parading our handloom saris, tussar dresses, and khadi shirts. The '100 Sari Pact' witnessed women across the spectrum pledging to wear saris, especially traditional ones, more often. The Khadi campaign has never been as strong as it is today with the country's topmost designers opting to create Khadi-based clothing lines. The government has been encouraging and Textiles Minister Smriti Irani even started an online campaign. While all these are but optics, it was exciting to see the response of hundreds of netizens who too decided to brandish their wares. This change in mindset, the ability and desire to love one's own traditions was a long-time coming and I am glad that it has finally arrived.
This is also marvellous news for the traditional weavers who have been debt-ridden and sometimes compelled by circumstances to take their own lives. More often than not they have stared at a bleak future for themselves and their progeny. The change in our consumption patterns and greater inclusiveness in fashion is gradually making real changes on the ground. A women entrepreneur running a traditional sari brand from Kolkata today employs 130 women weavers from the districts of West Bengal; a few months ago, it was just 30. At the crux of this silent revolution, are a clutch of independent designers who have picked up the cudgels to create an ecosystem between the weavers and consumers. Of course, they too are making a tidy profit but may their tribe increase for highlighting a dying community. From Benarasi and Kerala Kasavu to Chanderi and Bengal Tant, all are getting a modern spin, thanks to these crusaders.
The handloom sector is the second largest employment-provider in India after agriculture. It directly provides livelihood to 4.3 million people. With so many mouths to feed, the increased acceptance of handloom does not, however, mean that it will be a quick fix for the weaver community. It is, however, a step in the right direction. The community will need lots of sops and handholding to strengthen itself. Till then, the more we buy and wear traditional weaves, the better the plight of the weaver in India. As for the weavers in Kanchipuram, I hear that they have received a helping hand from a Finnish technology company that plans to start a cluster development programme to digitally empower them.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)