Many businesses and industries have been negatively impacted since the outbreak of Covid-19, with many companies even getting closed for operations because of the restrictions.
However, the pandemic and, even worse, public apathy have dealt the most significant blow to the handloom industry. Even as we celebrate National Handloom Day on August 7, weavers across India have been facing the dire consequences of no work owing to reduced demands.
Sahithi Divi; Sustainability for weavers
Sahithi Divi, Co-founder of Impact Scientist and Rural Innovator, a gender equality influencing platform in Hyderabad, has continuously worked for three months now with weavers of Mori, a smart village in East Godavari, Andhra Pradesh. She chose to work with weavers as the profession is dying out and the economic suppression and exploitation in the field.
“Lives of weavers are extremely challenged across multiple platforms right from wage disparity and middle-men commission to health issues,” she articulates. “The weavers hardly make `250–500 per day even after working long hours. Added to it, they become susceptible to knee cap issues as they sit for long hours in a confined space. And worse, families don’t want their kids to come into the profession for the lack of stability.”
Now with COVID-19, the situation has further worsened for these people because there is low demand and they have surplus stock at home but no money.
“Wholesalers have vanished, shops are empty and the local buyers tend to bargain,” Sahithi adds. “We need to come together to support the weavers and make them ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) so that no one takes undue advantage of them.”
Kaninika Mishra: An invaluable national heritage
Kaninika Mishra, author of The Indic Quotient, travelled across the length and breadth of India for her research, meeting several among the artisan community. She tells us that the handloom industry has been badly hit due to the pandemic.
“The inventory remains unsold as a result of low demand during the last few months. Payments remain pending for goods already sold to wholesalers and the access to raw materials has become difficult for the few who do have new orders,” Kaninika points out.
She talks about a fourth-generation weaver she met in Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh, pointing out how the vocation has consequences beyond those measured in economic terms. “The weaver’s mother, even though too old to sit for long hours, enjoyed spending some time on the loom every day. Being a creative process, weaving was an outlet of artistic expression for her,” says Kaninika.
Suren Chowdhary: Get vocal for local
Even though India is home to various indigenous art forms, specific to each of the region, weavers have time and again adapted to the latest fashion trends by either up-skilling themselves or by migrating to a different location as per work demands. But with the ongoing pandemic, these migrant artisans are left high and dry, points out Suren Chowdhary, Founder, Inde’loom.
“Many artisans in Hyderabad belong to West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, and they have moved back to their hometowns because of the pandemic. Now, they are shut out of retail,” says Suren, who has also been affected because of the lack of skilled kalamkari workers at his workshop at Srikalahasti town, Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh since the lockdown. “The sorry situation of our artisans can only be overcome by raising awareness among consumers to buy locally produced goods, and support the livelihoods of local rural economies.”
Mamata Reddy: Retail sale picking up
Mamata Reddy of Kalam Creations Artisans Society tells us that as a profession, weaving runs on through several generations of a family.
“So they can’t stop working all of a sudden and look for alternatives because of even something like a COVID-19,” says Mamata, who has been one of the pioneers of promoting Kalamkari works. Talking about how the pandemic has resulted in only 10% work happening, she even informs how in the initial days of lockdown, the whole production had stopped due to the unavailability of raw materials.
“Now, it is slowly gaining momentum. And even though there is no wholesale marketing happening, retail sales have started picking up because of online sales,” she adds. “The second generation weavers who are well versed with technology are selling their handloom works online and in turn bridging the gap between customers and weavers.”