Save the Weaver : Is weaving dying in Kullu?

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!

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  1. Shimla: Most visitors coming to the hill state make it a point to buy a Kullu shawl, either as a gift item or for more practical purposes. However, not many are aware that they end up buying a machine-made product, rather than a handknit one. In a case study done by a four-member team of Mumbai-based SP Jain Institute of Management, it was found that “many ‘traditional Kullu shawls are neither handcrafted nor made in Kullu.”

    According to Anoop H, a team member: “These (shawls) are mostly machine-made and sourced from other towns.”

    To protect the region specific identity of Kullu shawls, the product was accorded a patent under Geographical Indication of Goods Act, wherein illegal production, imitation and brand name use of the product is restricted.

    KK Kamal, chairman, LTN Weavers, Marketing and Industrial cooperative society, said: “Unless the government steps in to stop marketing of powerloom products under the garb of Kullu shawls, the original Kullu handloom shawl may not be available at all in a few years’ time.”

    Anoop added: “During the 1995 census of Kullu district, there were 28,500 weavers. 12 years hence, and the number has come down to around 11,000. The truth is, albeit a bitter one, that more and more people are beginning to leave this occupation and look for other sources of livelihood.”

    Out of the over 1,000 weaver societies registered in Kullu valley, only one or two are not in a good financial health. Jyotsna Shekhar, another member of the study group explained that with only a few youngsters taking to weaving as profession, the industry is dying.

    “Besides, there is a stiff competition from shawls made on powerlooms, which are available at cheaper rates.”

    Post the study, team members Shilpi Baral and Shilpa Kendre have launched ‘Save The Weaver’ campaign. The survey threw up a surprise finding, that the government was not enforcing patenting restrictions for Kullu shawls anywhere.

    “With better texturising, powerloom-made shawls have a better look and can cost anywhere between Rs 250-700. The amount does not even meet the material and weaving cost of the original Kullu shawl,” rued Pratap Thakur, president of a weaving society.

    Not one to give up easily, Anoop likes to think there is hope still. “The design of the handcrafted shawl is borne purely out of a weaver’s skill and is near impossible to replicate it on machine. We must learn to appreciate the beauty of inherent imperfections in a handcrafted product that renders it it’s exclusivity.”

  2. Either they have very little aspirations or very high levels of self satisfaction.Its Rat Race even u can’t win this its better to keep on writing it need a lot of practical efforts…………………..

  3. says: Ashima

    Kudos on the great work.
    I had a confusion, where have you found this statistics about the industry?
    “According to the 1995 census, Kullu district had 28,500 weavers. 12 years hence, officials can only approximate the number to around 11,000. ”

    Which census are you referring to ? The government of India did not conduct a census in 1995.

    Thanks and Best Regards,

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