Wednesday, January 18, 2012

They weave a sorry story

Shanti Priya/Chennai

Members of weaving community here are living in abject poverty. Many of them are embroiled in debt traps and it will take years to come out of it.

The paradox is very clear and stark. While what they make clothe millions, they don't have sufficient garments to cover their nakedness. Srivilliputhur in Virudhunagar district though is famous for its temples, the weavers here are a poor lot.
The weavers are forced to go to community meal centres to feed their families. Apathy of successive governments has rendered them without no means to support their families. Although they make textiles, the government has not taken care to pick them up.
Members of weaving community here are living in abject poverty. Many of them are embroiled in debt traps and it will take years for them to come out of it.
The handloom weavers face severe threat from powerloom. The changing tastes of the consumers are also creating problems for the industry.
According to a trade union leader, systematic marginalisation of handlooms by the Centre and successive State governments and the withdrawal of certain schemes are creating problems for the handloom industry. "The State government refuses to lift stocks and doesn't make payments on time. It results in mounting interest on loans," he added.
The workers' cooperatives used to be very effective tool in ensuring welfare of the community. But over the years, their influence has come down. The cooperative movement, started in the 1950s to help weavers tide over frequent crisis situations, and Cooptex, the apex marketing society, set up to promote handlooms, have been undermined systematically over the years. Politicisation of the cooperative set-up, with successive governments dissolving the elected boards and filling the societies with their own partymen, has weakened the movement. Cooptex, far from being a promotional agency, has been transformed into a mere marketing agency.
If the handloom industry has thus far survived competition from the powerlooms, the liberalised policy regime, market instability and government apathy, it is largely because of its own resilience. Now with demand disappearing for traditional handloom products owing to changing consumer preferences, poor marketing facilities, dearth of knowledge, skills and technical expertise to adapt to changing demand and lack of infrastructure to upgrade the looms, the handloom sector is a shambles. If the industry, the second largest employer in Tamil Nadu after agriculture, is to survive and the lakhs of weavers' families are to be saved from their desperate situation, it needs to be re-oriented with sound government support.

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