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

    Support and Regeneration: Recommended Action Points by Craft Revival Trust - JANUARY 2007

    Brief Background on the Situation of the Varanasi Weavers


    • Large scale import/ dumping of Chinese copies of Benarasi Saris and fabric lengths at rock bottom prices.

    • Large scale copying and sales of Benarasi look-alike saris and fabric lengths in polyester yarn made by mills in Surat.

    • Shrinking market for high quality Benaras brocades

    The situation on the ground

    • Only half of the one lakh strong weavers community has work. The rest are unemployed.

    • The average family income of those employed is now down to approximately Rs.2,500/pm which is less than half of their earlier earnings.

    • Others involved in secondary/associated occupations like the dyers and warpers are in a similar, if not worse, plight.

    • Reports of weavers committing suicide

    • Reports of weavers selling their blood to make ends meet.

    • While on the one hand China is dumping copies of Benarasi weaves - India is importing much needed, silk yarn from them. The weavers are largely dependent on this yarn for their weaving needs and cannot survive without this import.

    Areas to be addressed

    1. Humanitarian Assistance
      A critical and immediate first step is humanitarian assistance. National Relief and Welfare agencies need to be mobilized.

    2. Priority Action Recommended for Government

      • Activate the politicians especially in UP.

      • Activate UP State Emporium, Silk Board, KVIC, Handloom House, Central Cottage Industries, etc

      • Keep the Planning Commission updated and involved.

      • A large number of Central and State schemes initiated by the Government exist. These need to be studied, accessed and their implementation ensured.

      • The Cluster Development Scheme of the DC (Handloom) is new and as a very important thrust program it forms the umbrella scheme for the handloom sector where not only developmental issues but design and marketing are looked at. It must be ensured that this scheme is properly implemented in Banaras to impact on the weavers.

    3. IPR, Trademark and Branding

      • Geographical Indicators (GI): There is urgent need for the GI to be obtained by the weavers in Varanasi in cooperation with the National Copyright Office and WIPO. This certification based on a set of criteria can be a strong dissuasive factor to outside imitators and internal importers. It has already been obtained by Mysore silk, Chanderi and Pochampally.

      • Devise a logo or trade mark, some unique identifying mechanism so that when you see that symbol you'll know you've bought the genuine article. These could then appear on every project/ product/communication exercise that this movement undertakes.

    4. Protection of Cultural Heritage, Identity and Traditional Knowledge

      Action Required

      • Work towards a Chair in Benaras Hindu University for master weavers thereby equalising their status with the mainstream

      • Confer D.Litt degrees on the great master weavers

      • Revive the ‘Meenakari’ exhibition of the Poddar Foundation that showcased the pinnacle of Benaras brocade weaving and positioned it as one of India’s finest traditions.

      • Exhibitions and sales targeted at specific high end markets in the metro cities to reclaim Benarasi Brocades position.

      • Revitalise the status of Benaras weaves through talks and seminars

    5. Education
      The Indian Institute of Handloom Technology offers a three year diploma course that covers Fabric Structure, weaving theory, Textile design and colour, General textile technology, Textile Testing, Textile Printing, Textile chemistry, classification of Dye Stuff chemicals etc. This is the highest level of program on textiles available. This is an important course for the weavers children as 20% seats are reserved for them. It is however not recognized in Fashion Institutes or in Universities as a graduate program. Action Required

      • This needs to be upgraded as a degree program.

      • The number of reserved seats needs to be increased to 50%

      • More institutes with degree courses on weaving need to be set up.

      • Weavers and their children need to get reserved seats.

      • The program needs to be supplemented by adding new subjects to the curriculum.

    6. Capacity Building for the Weaver

      • Marketing support and market information is of critical importance to weavers.

      • Quality control parameters information.

      • The weavers need assistance to gage national and international demands and trends.

      • Access to market research.

      • Access to information on international sizes and colour trends based on feedback from large international buying houses based in India. Ex. Best Seller, Marks and Spencers, etc.

      • Access to design inputs for product diversification.

    7. Technology Upgradation

      • As at present the looms are made of a metal that reacts to heat, cold and moisture. The quality of the final product is uncertain. The cost of upgradation is Rs.10,000-12,000 per loom, this is a sum that the weavers can ill afford. Upgradation of existing jacquard looms will improve the weaving quality thereby competing favourably with international standards.

      • There are many problems in the existing product that loom improvement will help like missings; stroke marks; uneven picks; let up and take off motions are not available in the Varanasi Jacquard looms; Jacquard cards are not season proof; lifting weight of jacquard is heavy i.e. effects design efficiency; Jacquard cards are not in standard size so each jacquard has its own size, a card of one jacquard does not fit to another jacquard; there is no standardization; one 200 hook design cannot be fit on to the other 200 hook designs; Design visibility is at the reverse side of loom - It must be visible on the front side so that a weaver can see defects immediately.

      • Action and support is needed from the Weavers Service Centre.

      Action Required
      • A scheme to finance upgradation of looms is necessary

      • Availability of loans

      • Standardisation

      Dyeing and finishing facilities
      Inadequate dyeing and finishing facilities are leading to poor and substandard quality. Imported machines carry a 40% duty.

      Action Required

      • Perhaps one can think of these machines as Cooperative Community property. Weavers could then pay for actual usage.

    8. Raw Material Issues

      Silk Yarn

      • Non availability of Indian yarn Short supply of imported Chinese yarn

      • Poor quality of Chinese yarn imported

      • High price of Chinese yarn

      • High prices of Indian Silk yarn

      Action Required

      • Indian sericulture farming needs to improve in the long term.

      • Stringent control/tests on the quality of yarn being imported.

    9. Strengthening Database
      As there is an absence of a strong database in this sector there is an urgent need to strengthen this for all craft and endangered crafts most particularly.

      • Collect statistics on number of weavers in the cluster, and decline in employment over the past decade.

      • Hold public meetings with weavers to record their testimonies on problems faced by them.

      • Ascertain, through desk research and conversations with weavers, the causes for the decline of the handloom weaving cluster.

      • Review correctional measures taken by the government, if any.

      • Recommend potential interventions to increase market-led growth for the Varanasi Handloom cluster.

    10. Protecting Craft Integrity
      The need for sustaining partnerships and actions beyond the Varanasi Crisis – learning from it and applying the learning elsewhere. This includes the need for partnerships between craft activists and govern

    11. Promotion/ Marketing/ Public Education/Awareness

      • Contact film makers and TV serial producers to get their actors to consider wearing Handlooms. A valuable person would be Ekta Kapoor.

      • Revive techniques of natural dyes, eco-friendly processes and other similar aspects of value as practice to create high-end niche markets.

      • Need for consumer education on benchmarks of quality and linking handmade quality to self-esteem and national pride.

      • A series of articles/essays and write-ups in magazines and newspapers both regional and national.

      • Activating the News channels: CNN/IBN, NDTV, Aaj Tak to be tapped

    12. Product, Design and Market Diversification and Development: Home and Export Markets

      • Involve Design Institutes and encourage young designers to work in conjunction with traditional makers.

      • As the demand for saris has reduced, weavers who can only weave saris need design help on product diversification for their survival.

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