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Do You Know The Other Side Of The Weaver’s Story?

Avtar
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Do you know the other side of Weaver’s Story? – Archaeological surveys show that people of the Harappan civilization knew how to weave. References to weaving and spinning materials can also be found in Vedic literature. It’s no wonder then that, over the years, in the Indian history of the handloom industry there have been major strides. Sadly, however, the same can’t be said of the weavers in the country, who continue to face hardship not just because theirs is an unregulated sector, but also because they suffer at the mechanized hands of industrialization.

Handloom weavers’ struggle

Since the advent of the power loom, the handloom industry has been struggling. There are two sides to the struggle — one of the heads of the handloom societies and the other of the weavers.

The cost of silk has increased, making the production cost higher than ever before. Power looms are faster than handlooms and they can not only replicate handloom designs but can also create a larger variety.

While a handloom weaver takes 2-3 days (which can even go up to a week) to weave one sari, a power loom weaver can produce 2-3 saris a day. This is why power loom weavers can deliver customized orders, while handloom weavers find it hard to deal with bulk orders. A weaver earns Rs 500-Rs 3,000 per sari; the larger the wage, the more complex the weaving.

Child labor must be eliminated to give them a healthy and safe environment
Child labor must be eliminated to give them a healthy and safe environment.

For instance, a lady named Yashodamma continues to weave in her old age. She uses a charkha to make small bundles of yarn-threads. She lost her 45-year-old son recently and says that if the government had not discontinued the Mahatma Gandhi Bunker Bheema Yojana (MGBB) insurance policy, she would not have to struggle at her age.

Weavers wage gap

So grim is the scenario, in fact, that many weavers today encourage their children to take up other professions. “I’m a fourth-generation karigar (artisan). This (weaving) is what I have done all my life, but I would never ask my sons to choose this profession,” says 56-year-old Abid Siddiqui, who makes a living as a weaver of Benarasi silk saris in Varanasi to support a family of seven. Siddiqui’s story could be of any weaver in the country.

Handloom Weavers children face bondage labor especially if their older generations had taken loans
Handloom Weavers children face bondage labor especially if their older generations had taken loans.

Incidentally, there are as many as eight scheduled employment (under the Minimum Wages Act) relating to textile and clothing sector such as cotton ginning, pressing and waste cotton industry, handloom and weaving industry, handloom silk weaving industry, hosiery manufactory, power loom industry, silk twisting industry, tailoring industry and apprentices in textile mills.

Bonded Labor and Child Labor in Handloom Weaving – The major element of the other side of the weaver’s story

Thousands of children slog it out in the silk-weaving industry, esp. in Kancheepuram and Tiruvannamalai districts of Tamil Nadu, trapped in bondage imposed by the debts of their parents who are impoverished by a crisis-ridden industry.

For instance, a boy named KANNAN has been bonded for five years to a master weaver in Kancheepuram, a town 80 km south-west of Chennai known for its temples and its rich silk fabrics, mainly saris. He works from dawn to dusk from a pit and may continue to do so “throughout life”, unless a loan of Rs.2,500 that his parents took from the “master” is repaid in full. Kannan is just one among over 50,000 children between the ages of five and 13 who are bonded to weavers across the world. 

Long working hours do not see day or night for the handloom weavers
Long working hours do not see day or night for the handloom weavers.

Over time, with the enactment of laws aimed at stopping the employment of children, the production structure itself was changed. The manufacturers and master weavers began farming out the work to families – for the children this only meant that they moved to a different work spot.

Most child workers are no more than slaves. A normal workday is 12 hours long, but during the peak season, it stretches to 16 hours. While many work seven days a week round the year, some get a day off every two weeks.

Their average monthly income ranges from Rs.80 to Rs.250. This, after deductions towards repayment of loans that were taken by their parents, often to meet emergency medical expenditure, to get a daughter married, or to feed the family. The outstanding remains uncleared despite the monthly repayment and the bondage is carried over for generations.

The children suffer from innumerable health problems ranging from simple injuries to spinal disorders and eye problems. If a child is subjected to verbal abuse alone, he or she could be said to have got off easily. Beating and other methods of punishment are common. Even death is not unknown.

Data of kids working in different industries
Data of kids working in different industries.

Several pieces of legislation, including the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986; the Child (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933; the Tamil Nadu Handloom Workers (Condition of Employment and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1981; and the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, prohibit the employing of children and their bondage. But these laws are circumvented by decentralizing the production structure and making it home centric.

Government Assistance for Handloom Weavers

The handloom and handicraft sector is one of the major revenue-generating sectors of the country and this is the reason it is imperative for the Indian government to take care of the handloom industry. Considering this, the government has decided to take up certain welfare schemes for the benefit of the handloom workers. The government shall offer these schemes depending on the needs based on the interventions for the holistic and much more sustainable development within the handloom sector.

The ministry shall offer the up-gradation of the Fund Scheme that has been already implemented by the Textile Ministry. The textile industry is modernized, which includes the handloom sector, offers credit for the entrepreneurs to both the organized and unorganized sectors. This scheme is mainly focused on the weaving, processing, spinning, technical textile improvements, and the garment sections.

The institutional credit has also been approved by the government of India, and that can be availed within the IHDS scheme, to offer loans for the handloom weavers. And this time the rate shall be more reduced. The government is also offering money at an amount of Rs 4200 per weaver, the subvention interest at 3% for three years from the date, and also credit guarantee for the small business organizations.

Some other schemes offered by the central government for the handloom sectors:

  • The Marketing and Export Promotion scheme:
  • Handloom Weaver’s Comprehensive Welfare Scheme:
  • Mill Gate Price Scheme:
  • The Diversified handloom Development scheme:
  • Revival Reform and Restructing package:

From the IKF Desk

Handloom weaving is one of the most talked-about and popular along with controversial textile industries of India. Even though we know how Handloom holds a very important place in the fashion industry and provides for the rich culture and heritage of the nation, it is also not treated right. With Govt. laws, regulations, and welfare schemes being enacted, weavers all over are not given their due credit and wages to a certain extent and we as humans need to do our bit to provide for these people for an improved standard of living and a better chance at life.

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