You never know what you have been missing until it arrives. This adage can’t be more apt than for the weavers here. The folks in this valley are just plain contented. Either they have very little aspirations or very high levels of self satisfaction.
According to the 1995 census, Kullu district had 28,500 weavers. 12 years hence, officials can only approximate the number to around 11,000. Is the industry dying?
The bitter truth is that people have begun to opt out of what has always been their part time occupation as other sources of livelihood are found to be more lucrative. The wages paid to the workers on a piece wise basis are meager. The irony of the situation is that there has been an exodus of weavers from Kullu to Ludhiana which is posing a threat to the handloom industry. Little do these weavers realise that the wages are no better in Ludhiana. The only difference is the work culture that prevails in the two regions. Those at Ludhiana follow a strict regime of 8 hours of work per weaver per day while in Kullu it is left to the weaver to decide his work hours. As the weavers exercise their right to free will they put at stake their earnings and end up with a measly sum of Rs. 105 per day at the rate of Rs 15 per basic shawl woven. The low turnout of workers makes it cumbersome for the society to cater to the demand in the market, resulting in low profits, which in turn results in low wages and few incentives for people to be associated with this profession. The vicious circle continues.
While some associate the inherent lassitude among Himachalis to the climate here, some others believe that for a state which thrives on tourism, quick alternative sources of income prove to be more attractive to the locals. A basket of fresh handpicked apples can fetch them more money than can a day’s work on the handloom. The face of the industry changes with the turn of the season. The maximum production happens in the winter when other avenues of income slow down. Moreover, the hilly terrain in itself poses hindrances for the weaver to reach the work place. The state government could be forthcoming in this regard by providing concessional passes to the weavers for commuting from the nearest bus stop to the work place.
In spite of the multitude of schemes that have been introduced by the government for those organized as societies and self help groups, how well have the benefits been percolating to the grass root level is still a matter of concern. The awareness level about the welfare schemes is low among the weavers themselves. There is a dire need to disseminate information about the schemes and for this purpose local melas, festivals and traditional street plays could be used as effective channels. Cases of exploitation of the weavers by owners of societies who confiscate their handlooms, delays in payment of wages etc. can be curbed by unionising the weavers and by making the existing Weavers Association more active.
The future would continue to seem bleak until the concerns of the weavers who happen to be the lifeblood of the industry, are addressed.
All they need is to be given a fair chance. After all its something that they duly deserve!