How the government systematically destroyed the handloom industry in Karnataka
news Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 05:30
M N Chakravarthy| The News Minute| November 12, 2014| 10.00 am IST Last week, talented stage director, playwright and founder of Charaka Desi Institute, Prasanna, withdrew his fast, to highlight the problems afflicting the handloom sector in the state. The national school of drama trained playwright, fasted for three days, but the handloom sector has been starving for over three decades. It is an irony that he and his supporters were agitating for several years to remind the state government to implement a law had been approved by state and centre. That the government needed to be reminded of its own law is a sad tale by itself. In 1985, Central government, to ensure that the power-loom did not swallow the handloom completely, made it mandatory for 22 items to be produced only by handloom sector. It included coloured silk cloth, Kanchi silk sarees, dhoti, towel, lungi, hand-kerchief. Power-loom mill owners took the issue to the Supreme Court. The Apex Court, in 1986, agreed with the textile policy of the Centre, reiterating that the Centreās textile policy was rightly aimed at giving sufficient work to handloom weavers. Inexplicably Deve Gowda ās government reduced these items from 22 to 15. The government in 2008 reduced it to 11. Never mind, saidĀ Ā Prasanna, who was involved for over a decade with Charaka a handloom initiative. You allow handloom industry to supply the school uniforms to primary and higher secondary school children studying in government schools all over the state, he suggested. The government provided school uniforms free of cost to all its students studying in government schools. Handloom industry spokespersons were saying the same thing over decades, arguing that any such incentives could help the industry survive on its own, but an elitist like Prasanna saying so stumped the government for an answer. The government agreed but a few bureaucrats with the education department found it was a dreary and drudgery life without the incentive they were accustomed to get from the private suppliers of uniforms. Buying from Khadi Gramodyog, under which the handloom sector comes, at best can be account adjustment at the end of the year with no bureaucrat getting any commission. Bureaucrats being evil geniuses found a way out. They delayed the decision to purchase uniforms, then when the schools were about to begin, gave the contract to middlemen to supply to uniforms saying that handloom industry cannot provide such large quantity of supplies in such short period. Prasanna suggested the government to decide earlier so that handloom industry got sufficient time to provide uniforms. This October the Northern Range of the education department announced that the contract to provide uniforms had been given to a middleman who would fetch uniforms in bulk from the powerloom sector. Last year Prasanna and his supporters had undertaken a 200 km padayatra to high light the problems of the handloom sector in the state. This time he went on indefinite hunger strike at Gajendragad, Northern most part of Karnataka, demanding the state government order be withdrawn. Senior government officers rushed to Ganjendragad and persuaded him to withdraw his fast as they promised āto look into the matterā.Ā The handloom association feels if people like Prasanna had taken up the issue in 1989 the present decay could have been arrested. Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, AP and Tamilnadu somehow planned better and strengthened its handloom sector, having realised its potential. Karnataka somehow yielded to the theory of modernisation and corruption ensured erasure of centuries old tradition, skill and a involvement which was spiritual in nature. India was the first country to weave a yarn from cotton. Its hand weaving skill in cotton and silk is still world famous. But the handloom sector could not match the mass production of power loom. Ready-made cotton shirts were available in street corners and footpaths for less than Rs 100 while cost of stitching a shirt was little more than Rs 100.Ā Prasanna and others point out another factor killed the handloom industry. Adulteration of handloom products through the use of power loom. This is like passing off inorganically grown products using chemical fertilisr and pesticide as organic. Prasanna says handloom product still had its place in the market. "I once wore a dhoti, with bright red and green silk border, woven in Melkote, Karnataka. famous all over for its dhotis. I am an occassional wearer of dhotis and was walking on a deserted road towards the office of Sruti , a magazine exclusive for music in Chennai. Three persons who wear dhoti all through the year, evidently a power loom product, made me stop and enquired the price of the dhothi I wore. It was Rs 850 those days, three times more expensive than they were wearing. They were ready to buy my dhoti on the spot so enamoured they were at the handloom product from Melkote. Looking at their enthusiasm I was ready to exchange the dhoti on the street and grab the money but wiser counsel prevailed on both sides. Instead, I wrote in big block letters the address in Melkote and how to reach the place." In Kollegal, another place in Karnataka known for quality silk and handloom products, many handloom artisans are unemployed, the place flooded with power loom products passing of as hand loom.Ā It is like people not bothering about the difference between original painting and a reproduction. But the connoisseur knows the difference and is willing to pay, provided the product was not adulterated. Reports say many skilled artisans here have become construction workers, some running road side catering of fast food and lunch, instead. It is said they earned more than they did by weaving a yarn. Only a genius like Gandhi found the handloom as a weapon against the British, a nation of traders. Not able to sell their product would hurt a trader more than anything else. Slowly Gandhi realised weaving a Charaka was a very practical meditation for the illiterate, but intelligent people of India. Few hours of spinning a charaka a day would make the mind thoughtless, a state the meditators sought all over the world. If it fetched them job to their hands, money to their pocket, it was a bonus. Moreover growing cotton, spinning a yarn, using starch for the yarn, making it a fabric would keep the women busy, providing additional income. Provided some one bought them.Ā Prasanna was asking the same. Buy at least uniforms from us. The elite handloom market can sustain by itself.