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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:40 pm 
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Bodo weavers spin money in Bhutan

http://indiatogether.org/2009/mar/eco-bodobhut.htm

In a region mired in conflict for a decade now, the emergence and growth of weaving as a livelihood option for Bodo women has been welcome, and the women have taken to it with great entrepreneurship. Ratna Bharali Talukdar reports.


30 March 2009 - Three years ago when Bhanu Mosahari took a degree from Kokrajhar College, a range of opportunities unfolded before this Bodo tribal girl. The lone child of a teacher's family, her parents wanted her to study further. However, Bhanu, an expert weaver from Runikhata (middle) village, 40 km off Kokrajhar, the headquarters town of the Bodoland Territorial Council which borders Bhutan, had other dreams.

With an eye on the relatively unexplored market for woven products in Bhutan, she decided to set up a home-based handloom industry in her remote village in 2005. And three years after setting up her industry with 12 handlooms, Bhanu, now earns on an average Rs.10,000 a month. The traditional Hapkira and Boko (traditional Bhutanese dresses for women and men) woven in her looms found a good market in Bhutan. Bhanu's success has also meant livelihood support to another 12 Bodo women weavers of the surrounding area, who earn Rs.100 a day by weaving these products. Bhanu sells each piece of such Bhutanese attire at Rs.500, whereas the cost of production of each piece ranges between Rs.200 and 350, depending on size, design and quality.

Bhanu is happy that she has reached this position virtually without any institutional support - either for finance or for marketing her products. She invested Rs.100,000 provided by her parents for construction of her industrial shed and handlooms. Later she also constructed a hostel to provide accommodation to the weavers, so that they could devote more time to weaving.

Photo: A Bodo woman weaver weaving traditional Bhutanese attire along Indo-Bhutan border (Photo by Ratna Bharali Talukdar).

Like Bhanu, there are hundreds of other tribal women in the pockets bordering India and Bhutan, who have found these livelihood opportunities through weaving. With a steady market in Bhutan, the trade has been rising over the years.

Relief from conflict

The process of weaving her dreams into reality, however, was quite challenging in the backdrop of the decade-old conflict between the Bodos and Adivasis in lower Assam. A series of ethnic clashes led to the subsequent displacement of a large number of people from both communities, who then had to take shelter in makeshift relief camps for prolonged periods. Between 1996 and 1998 alone, more than one-third of the total population of the district was displaced by conflict. Runikhata, located along the Indo-Bhutan border, became the worst hit in such conflict situations as militants of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) carried out hit-and-run operations from their hideouts in Bhutan.

Apart from these clashes, militant activities and counter insurgency operations triggered by security forces made the situation in the entire area volatile. Most of the NDFB militants had their hideouts in Bhutan until the Royal Bhutan Army launched a massive crackdown in December 2003 to flush them - as well as other militants from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) - out from the Himalayan kingdom.

Amidst this, the new livelihood from weaving has come as a great relief to the women. "I have grown up in a situation of terror and unrest. Being an international border area, these pockets are always considered sensitive areas, and we are just a part of it. We could easily notice the free movement of militants and security personnel in the streets. We were witness and sometimes victims of various untoward incidents. But the positive thing is that we have our centuries-old relations with the common people of Bhutan. This has given us the much needed space to start and our expand business, " Bhanu tells India Together.

Significantly, right from weaving to collecting finished products to delivering them to traders in Bhutan, the entire market is an informal one, and is dominated by Bodo women, who are known for their entrepreneurial skill. The cordial relationship between tribes and communities living in border areas of the two countries has helped in rapid growth of the industry set up by these women.

And there are different motivations for women to choose the weaving industry. For example, whereas Bhanu has entered into the business choosing it as a career, for Juthika Narzari, the Headmistress of Runikhata High School, weaving products for Bhutan market is not only an additional source of income, but through her small weaving industry with 10 handlooms she has provided livelihood opportunities to ten Bodo girls mainly from conflict-affected and deprived families. Most of the girls she has engaged have the history of either working as domestic help in urban areas to assist their families financially, or spending their lives in makeshift relief camps during conflicts.

Bhanu's business success has happened virtually without any institutional support - either for finance or for marketing her products.

"I believe that as a school teacher, I have some responsibilities to my community beyond my profession. Particularly in this remote and border area, where livelihood options are very limited, weaving has given these girls a better life. I have also ensured that each of the girls has a bank account, where she can deposit money of her own", she says. Like Bhanu, she has also provided accommodation to the girls who work for her.

Purnima Narzari, a resident of Dantgheri village of Runikhata block, who started her business seven years ago, says that opportunities opened up for her when she used to work as a casual paramedic in a health institute in Gelephu, the Indo-Bhutan border point. "While I used to work as a helper in the hospital, the Bhutanese women were very curious about my traditional dresses. Then, one day they asked me if I could weave their dresses in our looms. Finding an additional source of income, I instantly took the opportunity', she said.

Significantly, many people from the Indian side of the border find their livelihood in border areas of Bhutan, as daily wage earners. These workers receive a work permit. They however, cannot stay overnight and have to come back at 3 PM each day.

Changing market

Purnima says that initially she used to weave all the products herself. But over time, as the demand grew, it became difficult for her to manage them herself. She engaged some weavers initially. Later, she moved to a different part of the supply chain, abandoning weaving and instead began to collect finished products and deliver them to businessmen in Bhutan. The business grew rapidly, and now hundreds of women in these areas are engaged in the trade.

"The business started and grew instantly, despite the volatile situation in the area. The conflicts and displacement and lack of development had pushed our lives into so much of misery and panic that when we found this opportunity to earn something, the women instantly grabbed it. Bodo women are known to be born weavers and it was not difficult for us to capture the market," she said.

Purnima earns between Rs.50 and 100 per piece, depending on the quality and length of the products. Initially she could sell an average of 20 pieces of such products every day. However, with so many women involved in the business her monopoly has been reduced to a large extent. There are no middlemen involved in the process, and Purnima directly supplies the pieces to the businessmen in Bhutan. There are at least seven other such women traders like Purnima who are now engaged in the business. She is mindful of the competition, but also happy that the trade has given livelihood options to so many women of her community.

While the trade has been flourishing with more and more women involved in the venture, the market has become more competitive for women like Bhanu. Like Gelephu, there are several points along the border where the trade carries on. There is growing demand for diversified products and newer designs, and also for Eri silk products, with specific designs, says Bhanu. Although a proper estimate of the actual number of Bodo women engaged in weaving traditional Bhutanese dresses is not available, Bhanu estimates that around 400 weavers along these border points are involved in the businesses.

"In such a situation what we require now is more skill and expertise to weave diversified products, to cope with the demand of the Bhutanese people. But lack of exposure and limitations of financial support have come in the way of managing a good deal of business. We need intervention programmes of both government and non-government agencies for survival and further expansion," Bhanu adds. ⊕

Ratna Bharali Talukdar
30 Mar 2009

Ratna Bharali Talukdar is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. She received the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Media Person and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in 2005 and 2006 respectively.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:50 pm 
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Surajpur's cooperative society empowers women

http://www.indiatogether.org/stories/surajpur.htm

May 1999: The settlements of the Trans-Yamuna area in Uttar Pradesh near New Delhi represent the upheaval and tumult of societies undergoing transformation from an entirely rural/agrarian environment to an urban one. With changes in land use, agrarian folk are often deprived of their traditional occupation, livelihood and land. They are now expected to become entrepreneurs and understand the needs of global markets. Most of these people are not even literate. Migration to city slums and employment as unskilled hard labourers often seem to be the only option. For the defiant among them, drunkenness, petty and sometimes organized crime is always close at hand.

Along with other artisan communities, the weavers of these villages began to feel that their skills were no longer of any use. As the village economy broke up, they sold their looms. They also felt that the age of the unorganised handloom sector was at an end because they could no longer sell their goods in markets accessible to them at competitive prices. Increasingly, women were forced to seek employment in addition to their traditional responsibilities to their households and families. Women sought employment in neighbouring factories or in nearby Delhi as unskilled labourers. Their status, however, is unchanged, as in much of rural Uttar Pradesh; they typically remain subjugated by their husbands and sons, and are discouraged from educating themselves.

A hand-woven durree made of jute and cotton by the women of Surajpur's successful cooperative

AN NGO INITIATIVE: In response to this bleak situation, the Indian Institute of Natural Resources Management (IINREM), a non-government organization formed in 1991, decided to take action. The aim was two-fold: to organize the weavers of five villages of western Uttar Pradesh that were identified by local Government officials as particularly demoralised and deracinated, and to provide women in the villages with marketable skills. Members of IINREM reviewed the situation and developed a strategy to create real and lasting changes in Surajpur, one of the chosen villages.

- Women would be trained to weave products that were in demand and offered good profit margins; these included durries, bed-covers, sheets and table-mats

- Women would be encouraged to participate actively in marketing their own products; this would be promoted by a weaver's cooperative society, to be set up.

LINKING MARKET DEMAND WITH SKILL ENHANCEMENT: To strengthen and structure the process of capacity building, training projects funded by government agencies were organized and about 150 women were trained over a period of two years. A large number of them were from the families of traditional weavers and eventually made up the core of the cooperative society, the Mahila Bunkar Sahakari Samiti

Members of the cooperative society at a meeting

In setting up a viable business for the group of women weavers, identification of markets was a necessary step. IINREM approached Fabindia, a retailing house that was seasoned in dealing with village weavers, had a devoted clientele, and had the potential for expansion. Fabindia additionally has a very strong nationwide presence in the handloom sector. Fabindia helped the Surajpur weavers directly by placing orders with them for their goods and also indirectly, by lending credibility to their work. As a consequence Surajpur now has a reputation for weaving excellence. The training of the women was conducted with this goal in mind and the orders placed by Fabindia have become their mainstay.

The road to this goal was rough. Both the weavers and IINREM members struggled to bring down costs, raise weaving standards, meet production deadlines and promote the products. Weavers had to be schooled to understand the demand for new products and to accept the market requirements of quality assurance, competitive prices and timely delivery. Several weavers dropped out of the program because these concepts clashed with the pace of rural life. Other difficulties lay ahead for those who persevered. For instance, in the early days of the cooperative, there was considerable difficulty on the part of members in understanding that their centre was not a profit making undertaking for the promoters. Even with office bearers elected from amongst the women weavers, most members saw the organization as a factory owned by the promoters. It became clear that the weavers had to be brought face-to-face with their customers to realize their role in maintaining and running the cooperative.

As the cooperative grew, new markets and approaches had to be explored to accomodate the growing numbers of weavers. The excess materials that the cooperative produced were sold at fairs, giving the women an opportunity to see for themselves how transactions took place. Feedback from the customers made them think of the worth of their products and of introducing innovations in their work. They learned more about collective and individual responsibility and grew more confident. Interaction with cooperatives from other regions also helped the Surajpur women enhance their understanding of a cooperative setup.

Through one season of such participation, the cooperative came into contact with designers, other manufacturers and traders. In March 1996 IINREM contacted an export house named ALPS, which helped the cooperative identify appropriate products for export. They trained the weavers, supplied them with raw material and proposed a "buy back" system for their eco-friendly products. By linking demand for specific products with training and skill enhancement, IINREM encouraged interaction between the weavers and the exporters, thereby ensuring fair earnings for the weavers and satisfaction for the buyer. Presently, some 12 looms and 10 women are engaged in winding and warping (a form of yarn arrangement) for ALPS. This connection with the export house has brought in new technology and encouraged the use of natural dyes in response to demands from the international market.

Sound planning and market-oriented approaches have made weaving the mainstay of Surajpur's employment, and the village has acquired a reputation for skilled work.

FAMILY WELFARE Apart from the purely economic pre-occupation, the women have received health check-ups, eye care and post natal care. They have been encouraged to save some portion of their earnings in post office bank accounts. Other social workers have been invited to interact with the cooperative members, who are very gradually coming to see themselves as part of an integrated group. The cooperative is now 4 years old and has achieved a considerable amount in this short time. However, family and village pressures continue to be very strong and are such that the women often give up and revert to their previous role of near-bondage. While efforts made by the cooperative have resulted in greatly improved savings, the women need constant reassurance that they, too, have the right to eat better and improve their physical well being.

Clearly, the existence of the cooperative depends entirely on its ability to generate income. This is the main attraction as the women can now earn more than the minimum (prescribed) daily wage. Their self esteem, self reliance and capacity to take on responsibility has grown although they are not yet strong enough to withstand societal pressures. Social set-ups demand total obedience from the woman towards all the male members of the family, including her sons. For this reason, some women do not reveal their entire incomes to the men as most of their finances would go to providing liquor or cigarettes and would be diverted from essentials. In fact, the process of empowerment needs to be somewhat low key and subtle so that the transition to a more equitable family situation is achieved without antagonism.

IINREM is optimistic that it can take on larger training programmes in the same area. The cooperative may expand its membership if there are projects that train women in compatible skills. This is likely to become clearer in the next two years. With a view to improving the conditions of the present Cooperative and strengthening its work, IINREM hopes to establish accessible health facilities for the women and their families. At the same time, identifying new markets and products for the cooperative remains an on-going effort.

Tara Acharya
May 1999


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 9:58 pm 
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SILK INDUSTRY
Sericulture gets a boost


http://indiatogether.org/2009/jan/eco-assamsilk.htm

A cluster plantation scheme promoted by the state government in Assam is providing new opportunities in silk production for thousands of families. Ratna Bharali Talukdar reports on the effort and the challenges it faces.

27 January 2009 - In December, Newson Marak, a Garo tribal from Jeera village of Krishnai block in Goalpara district of lower Assam produced around 25,000 cocoons of Muga (Antheraea Assama), the state's unique golden silk. He earned Rs.25,000 - double what he earned in February last year. A traditional silkworm grower in one of the state's richest silk cocoon producing pockets, Marak has a plantation of 1500 Som (Persea Bombycina) trees, the food plant of the Muga silkworm, covering an area of 1.25 hectares. He reared commercial Muga silkworms in February, August and October 2008 and produced over around 66,000 cocoons. In 2007 he produced around 65,000 Muga cocoons.

Marak is happy that price per cocoon has increased by about 100 percent this winter. The rising price is partly attributed to high demand for Muga silk in the state with relatively low production, and partly to the initiative of the Department of Sericulture to fix the sale price of cocoons and free the growers from the clutches of middlemen, who previously made off with most of the profits from the trade.

Enthusiastic over his increase in income, Marak is now planning to go in for Muga seed production simultaneously, as every kilogram of quality seed of Muga silkworm will fetch him an additional income of Rs.6000. He has successfully completed two training camps to learn about scientific rearing of silkworms, organised by the Department. Head of a five-member family, which entirely relies on sericulture for living, Marak also produces Eri (Samia Ricinii Cynthia) silk cocoons, another indigenous silk variety, which too fetches him some money.

Marak's story is that of an individual silk grower, but others are profiting through group efforts. Another tribal silk grower, Dinesh Chandra Rabha of the Rabha tribe, another colourful plains tribe of Assam, produces Muga cocoons as a member of a Self Help Group (SHG). The Sunnery Self Help Group of which Rabha is a member produced 65,000 Muga cocoons in November 2008. Rabha is a school teacher, and for him sericulture is a secondary source of income.

Cluster plantation

Both Marak and Rabha are beneficiaries of a "cluster plantation" scheme, initiated by the state government in 2005-06 and 2006-07 to ensure increased production of silk cocoons. Various activities of the production process are clustered together in traditionally sericulture-rich pockets, and these are then tasked out to different families in the cluster, which together constitute the full chain of production. Financial and other support is also available to the families depending on the roles they play in the chain.

The department identified 350 traditional silk-growers in the block and provided them financial assistance, training and the necessary tools for quality seed production. Of these, 200 families were identified for commercial cropping, 100 as seed cocoon growers and 25 for setting up of scientific grainage. Each cropping family was given Rs.8000 per acre for food plantation for commercial rearing of silk cocoon, while the seed cocoon growers have been given tools including microscope, nets, desks and others. The Department allocated Rs.25,000 per family for those selected to construct grainages. For 2007-08 the Department selected another 290 families for Eri and Muga silk cultivation in Lakhipur block, under the cluster plantation scheme.

The objectives of the scheme include increasing raw silk production in the state, generating employment in rural pockets as well as upgradation of the silk industry in the state. The department has covered 10 districts so far; during 2008-09 another 11 districts are being added to the schemed, and these will create an additional 24 cluster plantations of Eri, Muga and Mulberry silkworms. The sericulture department has nearly 400 silkworm seed production farms, grainages and centres in different silk growing pockets. A number of other departments have extended technical and financial support in the implementation of various developmental programmes for development of Eri and Muga silk industry in the state.


New plantations rise up in Krishnai block in Goalpara district.
(Picture by the Ratna Bharali Talukdar)

Interestingly, the tribal people with their rich heritage of rearing silkworms - both Eri and Muga - do not themselves wear or weave silk clothes, but the pupae of both varieties of silkworm form a delicacy of tribal cuisine in the north-eastern region. Tribal silk-growers also earn some money additionally by selling the pupae. After extraction of the pupae from the cocoons through a drying process, businessmen procure the cocoon-shells to supply to major silk-weaving pockets in the state, such as Sualkuchi, Bijaynagar and Palasbari in Kamrup district. These businessmen buy the cocoons either at the doorstep of the growers or in village markets where tribal people bring them for sale.

Official support

The Director of the Department of Sericulture P K Goswami tells India Together that with its rich tradition of rearing silkworm, Assam contributes almost 90 per cent of Muga silk and 65 per cent of Eri silk production in the country. He claims that the number of families associated with sericulture in the state increased from 1.85 lakhs in 2006 to 2.39 lakhs in September, 2008. This, he said, has been possible due to constant push of the department by way of providing financial assistance, training and awareness campaigns. The Department has also succeeded in freeing the silk growers from the clutches of the middlemen by fixing market price of per thousand cocoons, the Director says.

While Muga food plantations require continuous nourishment, in case of Eri, the food plants grow in abundance in the entire state.

The Eri silkworm is the easiest of the three silk varieties to produce, as the worms are grown indoors and not very sensitive to temperature or humidity, unlike the Muga worms. Humidity is especially a problem, and the monsoon limits Muga production to two or three commercial harvests a year, whereas Eri can be harvested up to six times. Eri is also genetically more diverse, and resistant to outbreaks of disease, whereas Muga is not. Moreover, food plants for Eri are abundantly available in the state, unlike Muga which needs continuous nourishment to be provided by the growers.

As a result, Eri contributes 87 percent of the entire silk production in the state, while Muga accounts for 12 per cent and the contribution of mulberry is only one per cent. During 2008 the per-thousand cocoon price of Muga went up to Rs.1100 from Rs.500 in 2007. Eri cocoons ranged between Rs.250 and Rs.300 per thousand. Women are actively involved in sericulture, accounting for two-thirds of those employed in the industry.

The intervention programmes of the Department of Sericulture have helped raise production of Eri cocoons from 585 million tonnes (MT) in 1995-96 to 1046 MT in 2006-07. The Muga yarn production during this period, however, has been modest, from 85 MT to 98 MT in 2005-06. The production, in fact, declined to 96 MT in 2006-07, but the department is working to correct this, and has set a target 100 MT of Muga yarn production for 2008-09.

The area under food plantation of silk worm has increased from 12,580 acres to 17,939 acres in Muga, and from 14,236 acres to 18,620 acres in Eri between 2001-02 and 2006-07 (the large differences in productivity for the two varieties are explained by the factors listed above). The workforce in the industry has also grown robustly, with 43 per cent more people now employed in Eri cultivation and processing.

Strengths and weaknesses


According to the final report of a Marketing Study of Muga and Eri Silk Industry in Assam, conducted by Central Silk Board (CSB) under the Ministry of textiles, the state has about 3000 commercial looms engaged in Muga fabric production, which is about 12 per cent of the total silk looms. The report prepared in February 2008 states that despite the shortage of yarn, the Muga weaving ventures is increasing due to entrepreneurship development programme and income generation. It also reveals that considering the present production of yarn and its utilization, there is shortage of about 40-50 MT yarns.

The study, conducted by a team of experts of the CSB headed by P K Das, a scientist of Muga Silkworm Seed Organisation of CSB, Guwahati, has identified the strengths of the traditional silk industry to be abundance of food plants, favourable agro-climatic condition, presence of large network of development agencies for supporting, and recognition of Geographical Indication (GI) to Muga silk of Assam in respect of raw silk yarns and threads for textile use.

The weakness of the industry identified in the study are inconsistent supply of raw materials due to low productivity, vagaries of nature, poor absorption of technology, unorganized market, absence of storage facility, absence of formal and informal credit flow to the silk sector as well as absence of market orientation and trade awareness among others.

To purity of the silk, the Central Silk Board has introduced the Silk Mark for pure silk products made from both Eri and Muga.

As a result, notwithstanding the recent positive interventions by the Department of Sericulture, its officials themselves admit more needs to be done. Their first objective has to be to ensure that families traditionally skilled in growing silkworms do not leave the trade. A large number of traditional silk growers have shifted from Muga food plantation to other commercial cash crops including tea and rubber. While in Upper Assam large numbers of such families have turned into small tea growers, in Lower Assam many have opted for rubber cultivation. Officials of the department also admit that while insurance cover for the risk of crop failure is available, it is not adequate.

"In such a situation, only a constant push for human resource development of sericulture-associated families, establishing an organised market base, innovation and introduction of new technologies, and diverse products targeting national and international consumers can ensure the sustenance of the raw-silk heritage in the state," says Paban Dutta, Deputy Director of the Department.

Ensuring authenticity

The golden Muga silk, despite being the pride of Assam is adulterated to a large extent due to high demand and shortage of sufficient silk yarn. The adulteration is done by mixing Muga yarn with local and Chinese Tasar silk or Tasar-like silk polyester during weaving, thereby camouflaging the products as that of original Muga. Similar adulteration also takes place with Eri silk products.

To check such illicit practices and to protect the purity of the silk, the Central Silk Board under the Ministry of Textiles has introduced the Silk Mark for pure silk products, since 2005 separately for Eri and Muga weaving products. Mamata Sharma, a senior official of the CSB says that there are around 80 authorised users of the Silk Mark in the northeastern states. Muga silk has also received official 'Geographical Indication' status during the year 2007 under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999; it is first commodity from Assam to get this protection against fake substitutes. ⊕

Ratna Bharali Talukdar
27 Jan 2009

Ratna Bharali Talukdar is a freelance journalist based in Guwahati, Assam. She received the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Media Person and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award in 2005 and 2006 respectively.


Last edited by kmoksha on Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:00 pm 
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HANDLOOM LIVELIHOODS
Artisanal weavers struggling to survive


http://indiatogether.org/2008/sep/eco-artisans.htm

India has made cotton fabrics for 20 centuries, and its scale in India was unimaginable. But modern market structures have pushed millions to the edge, and a few intense efforts, such as those of Dastakar Andhra, are not enough to reverse this. Darryl D'Monte reports.

09 September 2008 - It is easy to spot Uzramma, even in a crowd. The founder-President of Dastakar Andhra from Hyderabad is dressed ethnically, in a distinctive cotton sari and has the quiet, intense demeanour of an activist who has devoted many years of her life to the cause of traditional textile weavers.

She was in Mumbai recently, and gave a talk at the Centre for Education and Documentation (CED). After decades of working in this sector and also researching it in archives at home and abroad, combining practice and theory, she feels the need for an organisation like the CED to document and disseminate the findings on how traditional cotton weavers can have a future - while scores of them are committing suicide in her home state, in Maharashtra and elsewhere.

She plunged straight to the questions she hears the most: why had she chosen to work on cotton textiles? She cited the demon Bakasura from the Mahabharat. The demon terrorises the forest, devouring the animals there. The animals, mindful of the need to survive, form a union of each species and negotiate with Bakasura, offering up some of their kind by rotation. However, the demon's demands escalate rapidly and the animals begin fighting each other rather than concentrating on their single enemy. The moral is simple: with the resource base shrinking, the polity is dividing itself - left versus right, saffrons versus greens, and so on.

Finally, the animals get their act together, persuade the demon to look down a well, where they point to his larger-than-life reflection and explain that he has a bigger competitor. As the demon contemplates his mirror image, they push him into the well and exterminate him for good.

"The market is the face of the demon today," Uzramma elaborates, "you have to get rid of the demon itself." We had a whiff of this uncompromising stand when at the outset, she refused to accept a cup of tea, observing that all of it was marketed by multinationals, which most consumers don't take into account.

She has been working on 'artisanal' cotton textile production since 1990. This includes several processes - making yarn, weaving and dyeing. She believes that textiles have gone through a different history during the pre-colonial period because - unlike other sectors of the economy - it was relatively less hierarchical. "A large part of society was engaged in production," she observes. "There were lateral relationships." Later, she elaborated on how Hindus and Muslims worked in harmony, albeit in different sectors of textile production. She has found, in the course of her prolonged engagement with this traditional industry, that it was best to combine practical work, even designing new spinning units, with historical research.

For instance, a British expert, John Forbes Watson from Lancashire, was sent out to India to find out why the natives were not buying mill cloth from his home country, which was cheaper. He discovered that because of the 'sizing' or treatment of the fibre in the UK, it rotted within three months under the hot and humid Indian sun. Historical archives, mainly in England, but also in other European countries like France and Germany, would reveal such nuggets of valuable information.

The British sought to introduce accessories which were not indigenous to the highly localized and differentiated textile industry here. Thus, steel rods made by the Imperial Textile Industry in the UK were imported through Surat - which is where the East India Co set up its first trading 'factory' early in the 17th century. Stalks of jowari which had been traditionally used as bobbins were replaced with metal models.

For Uzramma, this is the Bakasura, the separation of the producer from the customer. Formerly, the two would have been umbilically linked in the same village.

Uzramma believes that "the direction of technology is centralized now", unlike the scattered and locally variegated forms of production which existed in the pre-industrial stage. For her, this is the Bakasura, the separation of the producer from the customer. Formerly, the two would have been umbilically linked in the same village, or at least in nearby villages.

In her prolonged initiatives to revise these earlier forms of production, she has learned the value of 'lateral learning'. "I have learned with so-called students and learners," she says. She refers to Edward Said's characterisation of imperialism, where the colonial power acts invariably as the teacher or judge, imparting superior knowledge to all those whom it lords over. This is not to be questioned, but accepted blindly.

An official census in 1987-88 estimated that there were between 2 and 2.5 million weavers directly working on handlooms, and another 1 million engaged in related activities. Weavers' organisations estimate the figure is ten times higher, at 20 million, working on 3 million handlooms and an equal number engaged in pre- and post-weaving operations. This is an exaggeration because those directly employed would be equal to the total number of jobs in the textile sector as whole. However, there would have been an undercount in the official census, since most handlooms are in the household, and hence the true figure will lie somewhere in between.

As a Dutch scholar, Hubert van Wersch, who documented the historic cotton mill strike of 1982-83 in Mumbai notes, "Of all the sectors of the textile industry, the handlooms have by far the greatest employment potential ... it seems reasonably safe to state that some 10 million people and possibly 15 million find employment in the handloom sector".

There are only three vats left where the traditional blue dye is made. (Picture credit: Pankaj Sekhsaria)

The Sivaraman Committee set up by the Planning Commission in 1974 found that for every power loom set up, six handlooms was rendered idle. This meant that every job in the power loom sector displaces 14 handloom weavers. Between 1963 and 1974, power looms overall grew at nearly 10 per cent per year and cotton power looms twice as fast. By the Sivaraman committee's ratio, the 290,000 power looms added between 1974 and 1988 should have displaced 1.74 million handlooms, which in turn would have rendered some 4.176 million people in this sector jobless every year.

This extent of immiseration has never been reported. But, circumstantially, it is known that in 1991, for instance, there were 110 deaths of handloom weavers in Andhra Pradesh due to starvation or suicide. By 2001, when the quantitative restrictions on imports of textiles were removed and the economy was exposed to globalisation, it was unofficially reported that there were 400 cases of suicides and starvation deaths among handloom and traditional power loom weavers from 1999. As many as 40 power loom weavers committed suicide in the first half of 2001 and others were threatening to follow suit.

Cotton and colonialism

Another perceptive scholar, C. Shambu Prasad, traces a related tragedy : the suicides of cotton farmers - 300 in Andhra in 1998 and later in Vidarbha - to the downgrading of Indian species of cotton in colonial times. He writes:

"The history of cotton growing in India since 1790, when Bourbon, the first exotic variety was introduced, can be seen as essentially one of the replacement of indigenous varieties of cotton, which had been carefully bred over centuries to provide the world's best cloths, by American varieties, to suit the emerging mill production in Lancashire. Consequent to the poor understanding of the difference of the two types of cotton, the indigenous was branded 'inferior'. While the 'deindustrialisation' caused due to colonial rule has been well researched, there is little understanding of the technical dimensions of the process…

"Cotton in India, unlike in other parts of the world, came into general use as clothing for the rich and poor at an early stage in history. Cotton cloth reached a stage of perfection that made Indian textiles known all over the world and the textile industry gave employment to vast numbers of people at each stage of production. Different varieties were grown in different parts of the country, each being suited to the local soil, water and climate."

Britain's policy was to ensure that India remained a source of raw material - cotton - and a market for finished products. Indigenous cloth manufacture was taxed at every stage. Shambu Prasad quotes from a letter that a planter, F C Brown, who spent several years in the Madras presidency, wrote to the Raj administration in 1862:

"The story of cotton in India is not half told: how it was systematically depressed from the earliest date that American cotton came into competition with it, about the year 1786, how for 40 or 50 years after, half of the crop was taken in kind in revenue, the other half by the sovereign merchant at a price always below the market price of the day, which was kept habitually low for the purpose; how the cotton farmer's bullocks were taxed; the 'charkha' taxed, the bow taxed, and the loom taxed; how inland custom-houses were posted in and around every village, on passing which cotton, on its way to the coast for sale, was stopped, and like every other produce taxed afresh; how it paid export duty both in a raw state, and in every shape of yarn or thread, cloth or handkerchief, in which it was possible to manufacture it."

As household spinning declined, both the growers and weavers of cotton became the clients of the intermediary spinning mills. The import of machine-made yarn into India "broke the connection between the cultivation of cotton, the spinning, and the weaving." While cotton had been grown largely for local consumption, it began to be cultivated for export and the numerous textile production centres dotted across the country declined.

Significantly, Shambu Prasad argues that the length of staple, so important for Lancashire machines, which imported cotton from America, was not crucial to India's production. Dacca muslin, "the finest cloth in the world", was produced from the shortest staple. A British commentator in the Raj noted that machinery manufacturers had a lot to learn from Dacca muslin. A comparison between Indian and American cotton in the 19th century under a microscope revealed that the former was much finer. However, once desi varieties were condemned as inferior, it was equated with coarse cloth. The need for a different kind of machine to suit the specificity of Indian staple received little attention.

Uzramma has set up the Decentralized Cotton Yarn Trust in Hyderabad. The weavers in eastern and western Andhra Pradesh are mostly Hindus, while the reed-makers are Muslim. There may be no socialization between the two, but a high degree of inter-dependence. She cites the survival of master craftsmen like Kattubadi Yellappa, the last surviving indigo dyer in Anantapur. There are only three vats left where the traditional blue dye is made. "India made cotton fabrics for 20 centuries. The scale was unimaginable. Cotton-making was closely meshed with life," she sighs.

There is no question that Indian weavers are literally struggling for their survival today, and efforts like Uzramma's are required in each and every niche of the country. It is a matter not only of preservation of these indigenous technologies but a matter of livelihoods. The silver lining is that with the resistance in the West to pesticides - cotton, one must recall, is the biggest consumer of these chemicals - there is a growing market abroad for organic textiles, including those made with vegetable dyes, and this opens the door, albeit slightly, for traditional weavers. ⊕

Darryl D'Monte
09 Sep 2008

Darryl D'Monte, former Resident Editor of The Times of India in Mumbai, is Chairperson of the Forum of Environmental Journalists of India and founder President of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists.


Last edited by kmoksha on Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Weaving woes on the handlooms

http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/feb/eco-handloom.htm

Though it employs a massive number of rural people, the handloom sector is considered a sunset industry. While some of the sector's troubles come from the relentless march of mechanisation, modernisation and sophistication, there's more to the troubled weavers' plight, says Narasimha Reddy.

7 February 2006 - 86-year old handloom weaver Donthamsetty Suryanarayana has no hope of relief from the drudgery. His is a struggle against age, ill health, low income and loneliness. This Telugu speaking man from Chirala district in Andhra Pradesh is burdened with a leg affected by filaria, occasional stomach ache, failing eyesight and pangs of hunger. He has been working for the past 56 years with one master weaver, in a traditional system of cloth production in India, wherein an investor employs weavers for weaving clothes.

Everyday, Suryanarayana has been putting in almost 12 hours of work. He has been earning in the range of a paltry Rs 250-350 per month -- major portion of which goes to pay for mounting debts and failing health. Despite lifelong labour, his worldly possessions are limited to a tumbler, a steel plate, a wooden bed and a torn cloth bag. Suryanarayana's life epitomises the problems of handloom weavers and their livelihoods in India.

Weavers like Suryanarayana toil for most of their waking hours to weave the rich tapestry of clothes and fabric that delight consumers across the world. Yet, their earnings per month do not exceed Rs 1,000. This is also the family income, as all family members chip in. Children do not have any scope for educating themselves, especially the girl child, who has to help in house chores and livelihood also.

How did this come to be?

A brief history

The handloom sector provides employment for an estimated 12.5 million people and is the largest rural employment provider next to agriculture.



Handloom is an ancient industry in India. The features of this sector vary across the country. In some parts of Kerala, Tamilnadu, Assam and Orissa, it has attained the status of a mature industry, and in other parts, it is still an enterprise confined to the needs of the household.

The last 100 years have seen the growth of mechanised textile production internationally. In part due to competition, handloom has lost much of its market and is almost non-existent in most countries. However, handlooms are still a force to reckon within India and some other Asian countries such as Srilanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Cambodia.

Today, India's textile sector comprises four important segments -- modern textile mills, independent powerlooms, handlooms and garments. Though there is a huge, informal tailoring enterprise, it has not been studied or considered worthy of public attention, leave alone policy. There are also sub-sectors like textile machinery manufacturing and spinning sectors, which form part of the textile sector.

Though it employs the largest number of people, the handloom sector is considered a sunset industry, and there is an air of inevitability given the relentless march of mechanisation, modernisation and sophistication. Still, there are many advocates of handloom for reasons including ideology, philosophy, sheer love for handloom products and economic arguments. However, irrespective of the policies, projects and aspirations arising out of various quarters, the handloom sector is undergoing changes that are impacting the livelihoods of handloom weavers.

Large footprint of the handloom sector in the economy

While the weavers face a dismal situation for their livelihood, there is a large market for India's handloom products both domestically and internationally. Handloom production has significant contribution to the national GDP and export earnings. According to the Ministry of Textiles, export earnings as late as 1998-99 was Rs.1,956 crore. Current figures are expected to be around the same. (1 crore = 10 million.)

Weaver in Epurupalem, Prakasam district, A.P. Pic: CHIP.

The handloom sector provides employment for an estimated 12.5 million people and is the largest rural employment provider next to agriculture, generating jobs also in semi-urban and urban areas of India. According to surveys conducted by NGOs, the country has more than 38,00,000 handlooms. In north-eastern States, there are more than 15,00,000 domestic handlooms. Handlooms in north India and south India are geared for commercial production for domestic market and also exporting their products abroad.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, there are about 3,20,000 handlooms. About 5,00,000 families directly and 20,00,000 families indirectly are dependent on them. Major handloom centres include Chirala, Mangalagiri, Pedana, Ponduru, Polavaram, Pochamapalli, Puttapaka, Gadwal, Dharamvaram, Emmiganur, Madhavaram, and Narayanpet. Each centre has its unique identity of producing varieties of handloom products. Large numbers of handloom can be seen in coastal Andhra, Rayalseema and Telangana. In all centres of Andhra Pradesh, production is geared for the domestic market only.

By some estimates, there are 32 other sectors that are benefiting from the handloom sector, including transportation, financial services, marketing services, service and maintenance services and hotels. Many handloom centres are well known tourist spots, drawing visitors from far places of India and foreign countries as well. Thus, the tourism industry's fortunes are in part influenced by the handloom sector and its fame.

Handlooms have an umbilical linkage with cotton farmers and the rural farm economy. Agricultural labour gets employment in handloom sector during the non-agricultural season. The sector has self-sustaining mechanism, including training for young weavers, irrespective of gender. The inheritance of skills, resources and capacities has remained beyond the realm and reach of any modern training and educational institution. The sustaining of the weaving skill itself has not been dependent on the government or any modern formal institution. There is also inherent flexibility for all types of communities to take up handloom production as a profession.

Handlooms are environment-friendly. A handloom is an independent and autonomous technology. Energy impacts are almost zero. The sector thus lends itself to sustainable development policies aimed at reduction of negative impacts on environment and ecology.

What ails handlooms?

As noted earlier, handloom weavers are facing severe livelihood crisis because of adverse government policies, globalisation and changing socio-economic conditions. The national and state governments do have several schemes pertaining to production inputs, market support and development, meant to safeguard the interests of the weaving community. Ineffective implementation of the schemes and the changed context of textile industry -- increasing competition from the powerloom and mill sectors -- has been largely responsible for the crisis in the handlooms.

Lack of information to weavers regarding various policies and schemes is no less a significant cause for the dwindling fortunes of the weaver community. Even government departments and implementing agencies related to handloom suffer from inadequate information and data resulting in a widening gap between policy formulation and implementation.

The formal education system (including research institutes) has not included teaching and imparting skills for this profession into its fold. As a result, any innovation and change has been left to the weaving families. In the recent decades, due to lack of information and fast paced changes, practices in handloom sector became static and apparently redundant.

Shed weaver in her dwelling, Prakasam district, A.P. Pic: CHIP.

Presently, government policies are increasingly influenced by the globalisation processes and are related to WTO-induced trade regimes. As the controls on exports get liberalised and domestic markets open up, the textile scenario in the country is likely to undergo drastic changes in terms of skills, inputs like designs, market trends and changing demands therein. The question is whether these changes include the interests of weavers who are still practicing their skills and knowledge, honed over centuries.

In earlier planning processes at the national level, development of handloom sector was seen as a stimulation for rural development, being based on local resources, local craftsmanship and catering primarily for local markets. In the first decades following India's independence, all national policies emphasised this. However, current thinking at the apex policy level is that the handloom sector is a redundant profession and is a burden on the government exchequer. Political leadership, in general, has been avoiding taking up cudgels on behalf of the weaver community.

Consequently, there is no discourse on handloom policies and also the replacement of the whole set of existing policies. Handloom weavers have no say in policy matters.

What needs attention?


The central government needs to recognise the value of the handloom sector in sustainable development. On its own, the government would never be able to provide employment to such a large workforce. Going by the logic of liberalisation itself, the government in turn ought to formulate, promote and encourage policies that sustain this employment. Government has to ensure a 'level playing field' for this sector towards healthy competition among the different sub-sectors of textile industry.

Principally, the government has to change its policy, swinging between attitude of gross neglect and shallow protection, to an enabling role. Public policies should go beyond mere subsidies, sop schemes, appeasement of politicians and their vote banks and aberrations in budget allocations.

The following are aspects that require immediate attention:

1. Raw Material supply

Access to raw material such as yarn, dyes and dye stuffs has become a problem. (Yarn is made out of fibres such as cotton and is used to weave the cloth, horizontally and vertically. It is the primary material to produce the cloth or fabric.) Weaving is a rural and semi-rural production activity and weavers have to go far to get these raw materials. To top it off, yarn prices are steadily increasing. The availability of hank yarn - the basic material from which weaving is done - is a serious issue because it is controlled by modern spinning mills, who see more profit in large-volume cone yarn. Secondly, since hank yarn is tax-free and has subsidies, enormous amounts are diverted to the powerloom and mill sectors. As a result, there is a perennial shortage of yarn for the weavers. Despite a few schemes, the hank yarn access issue has not been resolved. Colours are expensive, and presently there is no system or mechanism to increase their availability.

2. Raw material prices

Handloom primarily uses natural fibres such as cotton, silk and jute. Prices of these fibres have been increasing during production and processing. Cotton production in India is expensive because of intensive and high usage of costly agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers. Secondly, while the fibre production most often happens in the vicinity of the weavers, their processing is done in distant areas, and as such the prices to the weaver are higher. With the central government now encouraging primary fibre and yarn exports, handloom weavers would be on the last priority for yarn suppliers.

The solution lies in establishing relatively low-cost, decentralised spinning units in the villages where handloom and fibre productions co-exist. The units would enable direct linkage between farmers and weavers, which essentially decreases the cost of yarn and thus the cost of handloom products. Still, the cost of setting up the units may be too much for an individual, and hence governmental support will be required.

3. Infrastructure and Investment

Investment in handloom sector has thus far been limited to input supply costs. There is no investment on sectoral growth. While there have been some piece-meal projects such as workshed-cum-housing and project package schemes, they merely perpetuate the existing conditions. There has been no thinking on basic requirements of the producer. Facilities such as land, water and electricity need to be provided in many places that are a harbour for handloom manufacturing. On the other hand, powerlooms are getting more usable support from the government in procuring land, water and electricity.

Places like Pochampally (for e.g.) suffer from water pollution, where the Musi river drains the wastewaters of Hyderabad city. In many places across Andhra Pradesh, the only water available is groundwater, which is laden with salts and other contaminants. This affects the quality of production, economics and also the structure of production. Weavers simply have to put in more time to procure water for drinking and other needs, as well as compromise on dyeing quality.

Common facilities have not been developed such as godowns, credit facilities (banks in the vicinity), roads, proper sanitation, etc. have not been provided anywhere.

In recent years, the investment profile in handloom sector has also been changing. Traditional investors -- known as master weavers -- who had been investing for several decades in handloom production have been moving away, or have become reluctant to invest in new designs. There is a need for new programmes that enable the inflow of fresh investments and emergence of new entrepreneurs into the handloom sector.

4. Design improvements

While there are suggestions that handloom sector should increase its design in response to changes in the market, the bottlenecks are many. The lack of change is not due to the weaver not being amenable to change, as is bandied. Rather, it is due to unwillingness of the investor to take risks and provide incentive to weavers for effecting the change. This apart, government has been providing substantial grants to the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) to provide design support to handloom cooperatives, but nothing much has come of it. NIFT was granted Rs.42.71 crores in 2004-'05 and Rs.22.78 crores for 2005-'06.

5. Market for products

Handloom products require more visibility. This means better and wider market network. One-off exhibitions organised with the support of government do not suffice. Presently, handloom products are available only in few places. An umbrella market organisation -- autonomous and financed by the government initially -- should be formed to undertake this task, financed by the sales of the handloom products.

6. Patenting designs/varieties

Handloom designs are not protected. As a result, investors are not interested lest they end up with the risk and those who copy the benefits. Protection options include development of handloom/silk/jute marks and registration under Geographical Indications Act. However, more discussion is required on this if handloom has to come up with designs that suit the market preferences and are still protected against theft.

7. Cooperative system

While cooperatives do help in maximising the benefits for weavers in the entire chain of production, their present condition a cause of concern. The handloom cooperative system is riddled with corruption and political interference. Many handloom weavers are not members of these cooperatives. Government departments have to stop using them as primary sources for routing government funds and schemes. Cooperatives have to become independent of district-level government officers in terms of management and decision-making. An enabling role is called for, as detailed elsewhere in this article.

8. Free export/import trade -- opportunity

Post the WTO Agreement on Textile Clothing, there is going to be more free export and import of textiles. The handloom sector, as a traditional area, can claim some special packages or discriminatory measures, to protect this kind of production. Options and policy measures need to be worked out either by independent institutions or the government.

9. Budget allocations

Allocations for handloom in national and state budgets are being reduced. This has to be reversed. Budget has to increase with new schemes which address the problems of the sector, in view of the linkage and the need to protect rural employment.

10. Intermediaries (individuals/institutions)

Government has created a few research, training and input institutions to help the handloom sector. These institutions include weaver service centres, institutions of handloom technology, NIFT, etc. But their performance has been below par and their presence has not helped in obviating the problems of handloom weavers.

11. Enhancement of Value

There is a need for enhancing the value of handloom products through utilisation of organic cotton and organic yarn, application of natural dyes and by increasing the productivity of the looms through research and innovation – for example, changes in the width of the looms and some appropriate technical changes.

12. Competition and unfair competition from mills and powerlooms

Competition is now uneven, with mill and powerloom sector getting subsidies in various forms. Secondly, powerlooms have been undermining handloom markets by selling their products as handloom.

13. Wages, employment and livelihood issues

Wages have not increased in the last 15 years. Some sections of handloom weavers are living in hand-to-mouth conditions, with no house or assets.. These issues need to be addressed by the government; at least effectively implement the Minimum Wages Act. (The Quest Features & Footage, Kochi) ⊕

Narasimha Reddy
7 Feb 2006

Narasimha Reddy is the coordinator of Centre for Handloom Information and Policy Advocacy, Chirala. CHIP was set up in 2003 to promote the interests of handloom sector and it undertaking information collection and dissemination at the grassroots level. From its inception it is funded by Oxfam, India. The numbers reported in this article are based on CHIP's research.


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:08 pm 
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Reviving the cotton-to-cloth chain

http://www.indiatogether.org/2006/jun/eco-nobale.htm

The introduction of centralised spinning mills in British times reduced the economic benefit that farmers and weavers could obtain. But now it is being asked, can decentralised cloth-making revive old livelihoods, so that village economies themselves gain more from their local products and skills? Surekha Sule reports.

02 June 2006 - Although weavers in villages are surrounded by raw cotton, they almost always have to get their cotton yarn from spinning mills located miles away. Farmers too face a similar problem; there are hand-operated looms all around them, but they end up selling their raw cotton to ginning mills who then sell pressed bales of cotton to distant spinning mills. The cotton thus travels from the village all the way to spinning mills for conversion into yarn, and then travels back to weavers in villages. If the raw cotton produced in a village could be converted into yarn locally, both farmers and weavers might benefit greatly. But expert spinners have long believed that the economies of scale obtained at big spinning mills that produce yarn on a massive scale, cannot be matched at the village level.

Until L Kannan took up the challenge. Kannan, a graduate of IIT Madras, has been working since the early 1990s to design a decentralised spinning unit. His first micro-spinning unit has been operating for the last three years in Chirala, in Prakasham district of Andhra Pradesh. Now this Chirala model is to be replicated at eight cotton growing locations in Andhra, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The Decentralised Cotton Yarn (DCY) project is funded by Ministry of Rural Development through the National Institute of Rural Development, and is implemented by Dastkar Andhra (DA), an NGO which has created an organised market for small weavers spread across the state. DA is also a research and consultancy organisation for the handloom industry in AP; it has regular outlets, and also holds exhibitions and sales in different parts of the country, thus helping small weavers tap distant markets.

The idea is very attractive - cotton farmers get good prices within the village and weavers also get yarn within the village or in the vicinity, and thus both are relatively more immune to external market forces. Says Uzramma of Dastakar Andhra, the director of the DCY project, "Our long-term goals for this initiative are to provide raw material to the handloom industry through a yarn production process that distributes the stages of production into a series of small-capital, low-energy activities consistent with household textile production, and to bridge the gap between farmers and weavers. The DCY activity combines technical development with an effort to embed this in the social and economic context."

Traditionally, spinning and weaving was a cottage industry, and the entire chain of production from cotton to cloth was localised. It was during the British Rule that centralised cotton spinning began, and with it the necessity to press cotton into bales for easy transport. The pressed bales need to be mechanically re-opened at the mills (through blowing, typically); cotton is then spun into yarn and introduced into the organised market where small weavers have no control. By and large, the system of large scale cotton yarn production has been detrimental to the interests of small cotton farmers and traditional handloom weavers.

Traditionally, spinning and weaving was a cottage industry, and the entire chain of production from cotton to cloth was localised. It was during the British Rule that centralised cotton spinning began, and with it the necessity to press cotton into bales for easy transport.

Says Uzramma, "the mainstream technology in use in contemporary spinning mills is a centralised, capital intensive technology ill-suited to the operating conditions in India where cotton is grown by millions of farmers on small farms, and yarn in turn is woven mostly (over 90%) by dispersed handlooms and powerlooms. Due to high capacities and production rates of the machinery employed in spinning, only large quantities are economical to spin, while a weaver needs small quantities of different types of yarn. The overheads of transporting yarn add to the costs. Meanwhile farmers are constrained to produce the cotton demanded by mills, rather than grow rainfed varieties."

Restoring economic clout to farmers and weavers, however, is no simple task; mechanised spinning on a large scale cuts costs greatly, and dispensing with this completely might make local efforts uncompetitive. But can some mechanisation be retained, while increasing local control? Kannan began by asking if we can we go back, at least to some extent, to the old tradition of localised chains of textile production, and still retain the benefits of modern spinning technology? He reasoned that if small quantities of cotton can be spun directly into yarn locally, then a number of costs - for compressing the cotton into bales, transportation to mills, decompression of the bales at the mills - can all be avoided. He established Vortex Engineering in 2002, and with funding from the Ministry of Rural Development, decentralized cotton yarn (DCY) units capable of working with small quantities of cotton were developed

Decentralised cloth-making

The chain begins with the usual ginning process, where seeds and fibres are separated. After this, bypassing the baling process, a new carding process where dirt/trash are removed is taken up, and the first crucial links connecting fibres to one another in a continuous lap takes place. The carded sliver then goes through a drawing process where fibres are aligned, the slivers equalised, and given a slight twist. These drawn slivers are then put through roving process that draws down the sliver further, adds twist and winds it on spindles. It then is drawn into yarn with more twist during spinning on charkhas or ring-frames. This spinning could be done on ring frames with large number of spindles, but the smaller ring-frames are of a size that can be operated at home, and thus retains livelihood options for rural women, an essential element of DCY model. The spun yarn is reeled into hanks, which are preferred by handloom weavers. After strengthening and dying, hank yarn goes into winding for weft and sizing for weaving into cloth through warping.

4-spindle mechatronic flyer frame.

The all-important question is this: will the final product - i.e. undyed, dyed or printed cloth - withstand market competition? While baling, transport and unbaling costs are eliminated, this advantage is offset by higher cost of manual spinning on charkha compared to machine spinning. Hence, overall DCY process may turn out to be not cheaper than the large spinning mill process. But the rewards are distributed more evenly, with farmers and weavers themselves likely to keep a much higher share of the economic value of goods sold from the cotton. In the long run, costs may also come down further; currently the cost of each DCY machine is Rs.29 lakh, but once it becomes popular and others begin to copy it, this price tag should substantially come down, says Uzramma confidently.

DCY unit production is geared to cotton yarn up to 40 count rather than finer count of 100 or so, since it targets the large-scale middle market. Besides this limitation is an advantage as farmers do not come under pressure to produce long staple cotton variety to suit big spinning mills' demand for finer yarn. In fact Dastkar has deliberately kept it down to the 40s, and is not trying to make fine yarn, since DCY model is not meant for high-end elite market. The DCY fabric competes well with Khadi in terms of quality and prices. If the spinning is undertaken by powered charkhas, then it cannot be strictly called Khadi. However, the fabric is similar to Khadi in look, feel and other attributes. All of Chirala's DCY fabric is lapped up in the market, says Uzramma.
And judging by the enthusiasm of the weavers themselves, the prospects appear bright. Dastakar Andhra organised a demonstration at Chirala for weavers, farmers, spinners, NGOs, and government officials on March 6, on the occasion of the inauguration of Chirala DCY's new premises. Prospective NGOs bidding for eight similar units that DA will be setting up also participated. Some of these are Magan Sangrahalaya (Wardha) and Amrut Biotech from Maharashtra, Sewa from Karnataka, HLWDS from Kerala, and MARI (Warangal), DHAN Foundation (Nalgonda), SECURE (Khammam), CCKS (Adilabad), Pasalapudi Weavers'Co-operative (East Godavari), Guntur Zilla Khadi Samiti - all from Andhra Pradesh.

A draw frame for aligning fibres.

The DCY team demonstrated the entire process to over a hundred participants. There are 16 domestic spinning machines for which adequate cotton sliver is available within the village. These spinning machines are 8-spindle 'new model charkhas' which have been motorised with 0.25 hp motors. Weaving is integrated with the yarn production and currently about 700 metres of cloth is being woven every month; this is sold through the Dastkar Andhra Marketing Association. "The marketing arrangement is established well before the production process; this is the key to the success of DCY units" says Uzramma. Dastakar Andhra, being in this trade, has offered a ready market for the cloth produced by the weavers and is confident of marketing the output from all eight units.

While Dastakar Andhra, along with Kannan and others, has worked towards the development of the technology, all field processes and idea development have been undertaken with the close involvement of the Rashtriya Chenetha Karmika Samakhya (RCKS) the independent weaver movement from Chirala. As part of the process, rural youths who have passed Standard X have been trained, and are now proficient in the running and maintenance of the machinery. Some of the innovations in the performance of the machines too have come from these trained personnel.

Participants' responses after the Chirala DCY demonstration are quite telling. Magan Sangrahalaya from Wardha has to source cotton sliver for its khadi unit from Trichur and hence would like to take up pre-spinning work for DCY units. Amrut Biotech, representing a consortium of organic cotton growers, thinks that DCY machines would enable them to make cloth locally from their own organic cotton without the fear of getting it mixed with other cotton. In Kerala's Wayanad, Iddukki and Palakkad, yarn isn't easily available to weavers; so HLWDS from Kerala feels that having a DCY unit locally available can change this. RCKS noted that a shirt takes 2 kilograms of raw cotton to make, and is sold in the market for Rs.300-400, but the farmer hardly gets Rs 20. A DCY unit will benefit both weavers and farmers. One weaver, Narsimha Rao, noted that about 6000 of 15000 looms around Vetapalem are idle as the weavers cannot do the high-skill work required by the master weavers. A DCY unit will be suitable alternative for such weavers. ⊕

Surekha Sule
02 Jun 2006

Surekha Sule is a freelance journalist and an environmentalist from Mumbai and currently a Senior Fellow at National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD), Hyderabad.


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Weaving a new life
Surajpur's cooperative society empowers women



http://www.indiatogether.org/stories/surajpur.htm

May 1999: The settlements of the Trans-Yamuna area in Uttar Pradesh near New Delhi represent the upheaval and tumult of societies undergoing transformation from an entirely rural/agrarian environment to an urban one. With changes in land use, agrarian folk are often deprived of their traditional occupation, livelihood and land. They are now expected to become entrepreneurs and understand the needs of global markets. Most of these people are not even literate. Migration to city slums and employment as unskilled hard labourers often seem to be the only option. For the defiant among them, drunkenness, petty and sometimes organized crime is always close at hand.

Along with other artisan communities, the weavers of these villages began to feel that their skills were no longer of any use. As the village economy broke up, they sold their looms. They also felt that the age of the unorganised handloom sector was at an end because they could no longer sell their goods in markets accessible to them at competitive prices. Increasingly, women were forced to seek employment in addition to their traditional responsibilities to their households and families. Women sought employment in neighbouring factories or in nearby Delhi as unskilled labourers. Their status, however, is unchanged, as in much of rural Uttar Pradesh; they typically remain subjugated by their husbands and sons, and are discouraged from educating themselves.

A hand-woven durree made of jute and cotton by the women of Surajpur's successful cooperative

AN NGO INITIATIVE: In response to this bleak situation, the Indian Institute of Natural Resources Management (IINREM), a non-government organization formed in 1991, decided to take action. The aim was two-fold: to organize the weavers of five villages of western Uttar Pradesh that were identified by local Government officials as particularly demoralised and deracinated, and to provide women in the villages with marketable skills. Members of IINREM reviewed the situation and developed a strategy to create real and lasting changes in Surajpur, one of the chosen villages.

- Women would be trained to weave products that were in demand and offered good profit margins; these included durries, bed-covers, sheets and table-mats

- Women would be encouraged to participate actively in marketing their own products; this would be promoted by a weaver's cooperative society, to be set up.

LINKING MARKET DEMAND WITH SKILL ENHANCEMENT: To strengthen and structure the process of capacity building, training projects funded by government agencies were organized and about 150 women were trained over a period of two years. A large number of them were from the families of traditional weavers and eventually made up the core of the cooperative society, the Mahila Bunkar Sahakari Samiti

Members of the cooperative society at a meeting

In setting up a viable business for the group of women weavers, identification of markets was a necessary step. IINREM approached Fabindia, a retailing house that was seasoned in dealing with village weavers, had a devoted clientele, and had the potential for expansion. Fabindia additionally has a very strong nationwide presence in the handloom sector. Fabindia helped the Surajpur weavers directly by placing orders with them for their goods and also indirectly, by lending credibility to their work. As a consequence Surajpur now has a reputation for weaving excellence. The training of the women was conducted with this goal in mind and the orders placed by Fabindia have become their mainstay.

The road to this goal was rough. Both the weavers and IINREM members struggled to bring down costs, raise weaving standards, meet production deadlines and promote the products. Weavers had to be schooled to understand the demand for new products and to accept the market requirements of quality assurance, competitive prices and timely delivery. Several weavers dropped out of the program because these concepts clashed with the pace of rural life. Other difficulties lay ahead for those who persevered. For instance, in the early days of the cooperative, there was considerable difficulty on the part of members in understanding that their centre was not a profit making undertaking for the promoters. Even with office bearers elected from amongst the women weavers, most members saw the organization as a factory owned by the promoters. It became clear that the weavers had to be brought face-to-face with their customers to realize their role in maintaining and running the cooperative.

As the cooperative grew, new markets and approaches had to be explored to accomodate the growing numbers of weavers. The excess materials that the cooperative produced were sold at fairs, giving the women an opportunity to see for themselves how transactions took place. Feedback from the customers made them think of the worth of their products and of introducing innovations in their work. They learned more about collective and individual responsibility and grew more confident. Interaction with cooperatives from other regions also helped the Surajpur women enhance their understanding of a cooperative setup.

Through one season of such participation, the cooperative came into contact with designers, other manufacturers and traders. In March 1996 IINREM contacted an export house named ALPS, which helped the cooperative identify appropriate products for export. They trained the weavers, supplied them with raw material and proposed a "buy back" system for their eco-friendly products. By linking demand for specific products with training and skill enhancement, IINREM encouraged interaction between the weavers and the exporters, thereby ensuring fair earnings for the weavers and satisfaction for the buyer. Presently, some 12 looms and 10 women are engaged in winding and warping (a form of yarn arrangement) for ALPS. This connection with the export house has brought in new technology and encouraged the use of natural dyes in response to demands from the international market.

Sound planning and market-oriented approaches have made weaving the mainstay of Surajpur's employment, and the village has acquired a reputation for skilled work.

FAMILY WELFARE Apart from the purely economic pre-occupation, the women have received health check-ups, eye care and post natal care. They have been encouraged to save some portion of their earnings in post office bank accounts. Other social workers have been invited to interact with the cooperative members, who are very gradually coming to see themselves as part of an integrated group. The cooperative is now 4 years old and has achieved a considerable amount in this short time. However, family and village pressures continue to be very strong and are such that the women often give up and revert to their previous role of near-bondage. While efforts made by the cooperative have resulted in greatly improved savings, the women need constant reassurance that they, too, have the right to eat better and improve their physical well being.

Clearly, the existence of the cooperative depends entirely on its ability to generate income. This is the main attraction as the women can now earn more than the minimum (prescribed) daily wage. Their self esteem, self reliance and capacity to take on responsibility has grown although they are not yet strong enough to withstand societal pressures. Social set-ups demand total obedience from the woman towards all the male members of the family, including her sons. For this reason, some women do not reveal their entire incomes to the men as most of their finances would go to providing liquor or cigarettes and would be diverted from essentials. In fact, the process of empowerment needs to be somewhat low key and subtle so that the transition to a more equitable family situation is achieved without antagonism.

IINREM is optimistic that it can take on larger training programmes in the same area. The cooperative may expand its membership if there are projects that train women in compatible skills. This is likely to become clearer in the next two years. With a view to improving the conditions of the present Cooperative and strengthening its work, IINREM hopes to establish accessible health facilities for the women and their families. At the same time, identifying new markets and products for the cooperative remains an on-going effort.

Tara Acharya
May 1999


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INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Varanasi weavers get GI protection


http://indiatogether.org/2009/nov/eco-varanasi.htm

The country's latest Geographical Indication certificate offers some new hope - of putting the sheen and colour back in a vital piece of Indian heritage, and livelihoods linked to it. Puja Awasthi reports.

01 November 2009 - On September 4, a small piece of paper spread a shield over some 12 lakh weavers. Though not all of them know of it yet, the newest Geographical Indication (GI) certificate from India declares that henceforth only saris produced in Varanasi, Azamgarh, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Mirzapur and Sant Ravi Dass Nagar (Bhadohi) will be considered Benarsi saris. The certificate covers silk brocades like Amru, textile goods not covered elsewhere such as bed and table covers, silk saris and dress materials such as Jamdani, Jangla, Jamawar Tanchoi, Tissue, cut work, butidar and silk embroidery saris.

A GI certificate, which is granted by the Centre under the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, is both a guarantee and protection. It guarantees that the product under consideration was produced in a specific geographical region or locality from where it draws its special characteristics. It assures the buyer that his money has been spent on a genuine good while it protects the producer against cheap imitations (in this case computer-printed saris from Surat and saris on Chinese crepe) trying to pass off as genuine artifacts.

The miseries of Varanasi's silk sari weavers have been documented since 1995, when the government imposed a ban on weaving of Chinese silk - forcing weavers to buy the more expensive Bangalore silk instead. However in 2001, under WTO negotiations on import tariffs on textiles such as saris, the government removed quantitative restrictions on silk imports, thus flooding the market with plain Chinese crepe fabric which began to eat into the Benarsi silk sari market because of its low cost. With the economic downturn export orders began to decline as well, further ruining the market.

In addition, 80 per cent of the market was captured by power loom owners spawning cheap computer-assisted designs on saris produced much quickly than the handloom product, and selling them at less than half the price of a real Benarsi sari. However, the power loom itself is not the villain of this piece. According to figures from the Ministry of Textiles, these looms employ close to 48.6 lakh workers, manufacture 62 per cent of the cloth produced in the country. In striking contrast the number of handlooms has remained static at 38.91 lakhs during the same period.


Power looms spawn cheap computer-assisted designs on saris produced much quickly than the handloom product, and at less than half the price of a real Benarsi sari. (Picture: Shamsudin Ansari was one of those who gave in to the lure of the power loom. (Photo by Kamal Kishor Kamal).)

Social activist and writer Bharat Dogra points out that the problems are long-standing. As he observes, "The crisis of Varanasi's silk weavers is deep-rooted. Why should a highly skilled community face such acute difficulties? The government, despite its pre-independence commitment to the handloom sector, has been able to put policies on paper only. The media too has looked at the issue only at a very superficial level."

Dogra's view is well supported by the facts. India's handloom sector is the biggest in the world and employs 65 lakh workers directly or indirectly. According to the Report of the Working Group on Textiles and Jute Industry For the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12) it contributes about 15 per cent of the country's cloth production, and brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in export earnings annually. This low-capital-intensive industry has no import content in assets/raw materials and presents a vast array of environmentally friendly products. In addition, as the report suggests, it has the "potential to arrest migration of population to urban areas", a growing concern in recent years.

In 2001, such considerations prompted "Find Your Feet" (FYF), the Indian arm of a UK-based charity to make the first efforts to assist weavers, primarily by setting up self-help groups that allowed them to work without middlemen in the economic chain. The most important step was the building of the Benares Bunkar Samiti (BBS), an aggregate of 97 self-help groups of weavers and artisans, with 1296 members spread across two blocks (of Chiraigaon, 49 villages and Cholapur, 13 villages).

As on September 30, 2009, the total savings of the SHGs members was Rs.18,38,155, total grant of Revolving Fund from FYF was Rs.4,94,845, total interest earned from members was Rs. 158232 taking the total Group Fund to Rs.24,91,232 while the percentage of group loan recovery stood at a handsome 72 per cent. In April 2005, after the pilot had been successful, DFID stepped in to support FYF to fund the project with 245,399 British Pounds for five years, money which will now help in expanding the project to the neighbouring districts of Mau and Ghazipur.

"The weavers had faced the worst of the crisis. Our first concern was only to have a revolving fund grow so that immediate livelihood issues could be tackled but one of our board members brought in the GI idea", says Savitri Sharma, director of FYF, India.

By 2004-5, with a lot of capacity building and training inputs from Saksham India Trust (SIT, the development resource cell of FYF), the BBS was ready to apply for the GI. BBS in fact became the first applicant for the GI.

In addition to the Indian government's own commitment to protecting Intellectual Property rights, the case for GI status for brocade and Benarsi saris received a boost from Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary General of the United Nation Conference Of Trade And Development (UNCTAD). During a visit to Varanasi in August 2008, he declared: "We would like to support the effort to have a formal geographical indication, of course, at national level. There would be a subsequent international recognition of this product of 'Banarsi silk sarees' and brocades and other products that should be gaining in terms of more value outside India as well." (The Economic Times, 19 August 2008)

More than a decade of struggle

But long before that help came, many weavers had given up hope. Shamsudin Ansari (36) of Lohta (a small town 22 kilometers from Varanasi, and a dense hub of weavers) was one of the many who gave in to the lure of the power loom when the market for the handloom product began to shrink. For 20 years he had worked on the handloom but when it became impossible to feed a family of 14 he pawned off the jewellery of the womenfolk to buy a power loom, hoisting his five handlooms at one end of his tiny workspace. The womenfolk, who do the pre weaving tasks like degumming, bleaching, and dyeing work within the home.

"The computer-designed saris from Surat destroyed us. Then came the Chinese product which used nylon threads instead of silk. On the handloom weaving was a work of art, and an exquisite product sometimes taking two months to be completed. Now I work on the power loom which unlike its counterpart can weave only in three colours at one go. And then there is this awful noise to contend with", he shrugs. To beat the power outages and the voltage fluctuations that the area is plagued with, work on Ansari's obsolete shuttle loom continues 24 hours a day, his brother and cousin putting in eight hours like him.

Like most weavers in the area Ansari has no knowledge of the GI, and its newly-available protection against competition from imitators.

Abdul Kalam (40) also of Lohta, is another of the ignorant. The youngest of his four children, one-year-old Roshni is severely malnourished. But since the doctor at the government hospital never told Kalam what exactly is wrong with the child, he describes only the symptoms. "For two months after she was born, the girl was alright. Then she developed cough and cold, her body was covered in boils and her belly began to stick out. I do not think the government doctor has been able to diagnose what is wrong. Someone suggested a private doctor, but he charges Rs.150. I earn just less than half of that", he says holding up the folic acid syrup that the government doctor has given him.

Hunger, depression and death have been common themes among Varanasi's weaving community. According to a study by the Varanasi based People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), between January 2003 and March 2007, 47 weavers committed suicide mostly due to malnutrition, inability to pay loans, and hunger. During the same period, 46 children were found malnourished. Similarly between March and August 2008, 67 patients were diagnosed with tuberculosis (caused by breathing in fibres and fabrics they work with). Many moved to petty trades like plying rickshaws, some migrated to Surat and Ludhiana, and in the worst cases, out-of-work weavers began to sell their blood and even their children to tide over the crisis.

Need to link to markets


The GI certificate may bring some relief, but the few who do know of it are realising a few other truths too. Bachcha Lal Maurya of Chhahi village, some 23 kilometres from Varanasi on the road to Sarnath, regrets that weavers like him have no links to the markets. "For nine years we suffered, surviving on as little as Rs 50.a day. We need to make sure that never happens again. Why are we involved only in production? Why don't we exhibit our work to the outside world? Why should a middleman be our only source of orders? Why should we continue to produce just traditional saris?" he asks.

Hira Lal (49) a second-generation weaver who shares work on Maurya's four handlooms says that he once had six looms of his own and employed 10 weavers. Today they lie dusty and cob-webbed, not even fit to be sold. "There came a time when I wanted to poison my family and myself to escape the poverty. In our village two weavers did just that, but I worked on construction sites and as an agricultural labourer to survive. The [GI] certification has meaning only if we are connected directly to the markets", he says.

Pic: Diversification to products such as table mats will help the industry.

FYF's Sharma says, "This is just the beginning; we have a long away to go in bringing the Benarsi sari and brocade more in line with today's fashions. That includes an expansion of our product range and design modifications in alliance with national level design institutes and building market linkages. The trade has to be made viable also to draw back those traditional weavers and their children who have been weaned off the craft."

Those things will take time. For now, at least the GI certificate offers some new hope - of putting the sheen and colour back in a vital piece of Indian heritage. At Maurya's own loom, a weaver is working on table mats. On a background of shocking pink silk he plaits flowers in a riot of colours. The table runner to go with it has already been produced. ⊕

Puja Awasthi
01 Nov 2009

Puja Awasthi reports on development issues, and is based in Lucknow.


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