Recommendations For The Handloom Industry

Statement from Ashoke Chatterjee, Former Executive Director, National Institute of Design

Research Findings by Nesar Ahmed

Varanasi Weavers - Support and Regeneration

- Uma Prajapati,

- Rahul Kodkani, Udai

- SOS Children's Village
Ashoke Chatterjee's Briefings:
  • November 2005

  • February 2006

  • April 2007

  • At Craft Revival Trust

    Statement from Ashoke Chatterjee, Former Executive Director, National Institute of Design - JANUARY 2007

    "It was in November 2005 that a BBC news report brought to our attention the crisis of Varanasi weavers threatened by dumping of imitation 'Benarasi brocade' by Chinese exporters aided by Indian importers. Soon thereafter, a brainstorming at IIC helped to define the challenge more clearly. A small group has since tried to understand this manifestation of globalisation and its impact on hereditary crafts. Government policies for the handloom sector have been studied and reforms suggested. Contact has been made with the trade and those who can influence it, here and overseas. Partners have been identified. Yet it is unlikely that we have been able to reduce the immediate suffering of artisans in any real and lasting way.

    The Varanasi situation was not the first but perhaps the most serious indication that India has been totally unprepared for the impact on its craft sector of the new regimes which today govern international trade. Given the human scale of the sector, this negligence is unforgivable. Small numbers if European and American farmers have the political clout to impede for years interpretations of 'free trade' that can affect them. They negotiate, with the support of their governments, to have these re-interpreted in their favour... Millions of Indian artisans can do nothing of the kind. They are unaware, unorganised, and unrepresented at the tables of decision-making. And their government is a mere spectator, not a champion.

    It is not that India was not warned. The many warnings included imitation 'Gujarati' embroidery, 'Kanjeevaram' saris, 'Kolhapuri' chappals, even festive and ritual crafts taken over by foreign enterprise. So there can be no official excuse for Varanasi. New Delhi has no dearth of skilled negotiators experienced in matters of international trade. What we lack is any kind of political priority for handcrafts, despite the sector representing such a colossal employment factor, despite its contribution to the economy, despite the endless mantras about our ancient heritage as a vital part of our present and future. Over these past months, a major reality has stared us in the face: Indian authorities have little idea of what is going wrong or what to do about it. There is no strategy apparent, either in Varanasi or elsewhere. Civil society activists have yet neither the resources nor the organised clout to make a difference. Even more serious, at the highest levels of decision-making, handcraft and handloom production is today being dismissed as 'sunset industries. This, while in Europe and North America the culture of the hand and role of so-called 'cultural industries' are being taken with utmost seriousness as keys to sustainable development within advanced economies.

    Varanasi is therefore something of a touchstone for us activists seeking not just a survival status for Indian craft but for its place, here and now, at the top of our economic, social and political priority. Advocacy on this scale demands organisation. It must be based on researched facts, on the mobilisation of those most concerned, and on a menu of prepared options with which to negotiate the future. Do we have the will and the resources to come together to do this? The battle may be long and difficult in this age of instant solutions based on short-term profit.

    "Benarasi brocade", described as the Taj Mahal of Indian craft, is understood in every home as a symbol of quality that extends beyond its material and design. Our deepest consciousness it touched by its place of origin, the social structures that have for centuries created and sustained its production, its uses for celebration, ornamentation and blessing. These are dimensions in our survival as an integrated nation and as a syncretic culture. We have witnessed recently the ability of poor and disadvantaged Indians fighting back when confronted by those who dismiss their aspirations as 'sunset' values inconsistent with modernity. We can learn for them, and we can persevere as they have.

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