Friday, July 31, 2009

The Tradition of Indian Khadi

Some of the world's finest thread Khadi or handspun handloom cotton. Photo by Smita Paul

Say 'Yes' to Khadi, the Comfortable Attire of Kerala
by Slices of Kerala Life

The hand spun khadi has had a big role in the Indian history. Right from the freedom struggle days, our nationalist leaders have considered khadi as not just a fabric but a symbol of self sustenance and independence. However with the advent of designer apparels and synthetic, wrinkle free garments, people swapped khadi with these options considering the ease and style factor tagged to it.

This caused the virtual annihilation of the hand loom sector leaving the workers in dire streets. Now in an attempt to revamp the handloom sector, Kerala Government has come up with a novel concept of promoting khadi in schools and offices as a weekend wear.
Khadi is the best suited fabric in the humid weather conditions of Kerala as it keeps your skin well aerated and cool.

Made from unbleached cotton, it is sturdy and long lasting and requires no special care. It is easy on your pockets, and is suited for all skin types and does not cause allergies. Hand spun by gifted artisans this art is handed down the generations. Khadi is available in various exciting colours and trendy patterns in tune with the changing times. In addition to dress materials, bedsheets, stylish bags, purses , upholstery materials and furnishings are also available in the market.
A young female 'spinner' spins khadi yarn in West Bengal. Photo by Smita Paul

Unfortunately, these days, the use of handloom cloth is confined to the festival season of Onam and Vishu where men and women flock the handloom shops to buy the traditional mundu and saree with zari borders. Let us make wearing khadi a habit and a part of our style statement. Experience the natural goodness of khadi and be a proud malayali in its fullest sense by reviving this traditional art of cloth making by adopting this simple yet stylish way of dressing at least on the weekends.

Varanasi Saree Production A Dying Art

In this article, an established handloom weaver speaks about the decline of the traditional art, due to the increase of mechanized saree production. A traditional handloom saree takes 7 to 10 days to weave, and an additional 7 to 10 days for embroidery. On a machine, the entire process takes less than 10 hours. However, the price includes the lost of work for traditional handloom weavers, traditional hand embroiderers. Some traditional Indian arts are not even made in India - they have moved to factories in China.

Dying Handloom Industry in Azamgarh
India Mirror
by Salman Sultan

Varanasi: Mr. Imam Ali s/o Mr. Muzammil Husain originally belongs to Mohalla Pura Diwan of Mubarakpur (District Azamgarh). He migrated to Varanasi in November 2000 after prolonged sectarian violence in Mubarakpur. He is involved in manufacturing Banarasi Silk Sarees and has continued this business in Varanasi.

According to him “traditional embroidered Saree on an average takes 7-10 days. The same Saree could be stitched on Computer Embroidery Machine in 4 hours but it compromises quality. Actually the Saree is knitted on Powerloom in 5 hours but on Handloom the plain cloth Saree with design takes 7-10 days. Earlier Handloom industry was only in Mubarakpur but now Silk cloth is available from Surat (Gujrat) and with Computerized Embroidery Machine Saree can be made anywhere in India.

Another reason for decline of Handloom industry is the import of China Silk. Earlier Bangalore Silk was made available which is quite costly as compared to China Silk. Handloom industry is only in Mubarakpur and the so called Banarasi Sarees are actually hand made in Mubarakpur or the suburbs of Varanasi. Mau, which was earlier in Azamgarh district, had Powerloom from the beginning. Therefore, cloth industry in Mau in not affected, rather it has flourished at the cost of Handloom industry of Mubarakpur”.

Mr. Hasan Ali s/o Mr. Abdul Mannan, Malti Bagh, Madanpura, Varanasi, lamented, “Around 50,000 workers involved in Handloom industry have migrated for petty jobs elsewhere. Earlier Zari work used to be done through Silver-Copper wire but now it has been replaced with Plastic Zari. Lohta, Kotwa and Mangalpur (all suburbs of Varanasi) are places where weavers used to weave intricate patterns to produce traditional Banarasi Saree but all Handlooms there are lying idle. Those still working on Handloom are just hand to mouth as labour charges have been reduced”.

Both these businessmen associated with Handloom industry blamed the government for neglecting this important industry, which not only provided employment to thousands but was also part of our culture. They suggested government help in the form of subsidy and training in Computer handling to their youths.

Sikkim Handloom Industry Making Efforts to Popularize Tribal Art:

Handloom is a part of the make-up of culture in most parts of Asia - including the northeastern Indian state of Sikkam. Much like Indigo Handloom weavers the Sikkim weave on family looms in their own homes. The article below speaks of an effort to keep the Sikkim handloom industry alive and thriving. They are offering handloom programs to young members of the community to keep the tradition of handloom in their culture.

Sikkim Handloom Industry Making Efforts to Popularize Tribal Art:
By Tashi Pradhan (ANI)

GANGTOK - To promote the weave of an indigenous tribe of Sikkim, handicrafts and handloom department of the state is trying to enhance its popularity by imparting training to unemployed youth.

The Directorate of Handloom and Handicraft (DHH) of Sikkim impart training to unemployed Sikkimese Lepcha boys and girls between the age group of 14 to 24 years.

The ‘Lepchas’ are the aboriginal inhabitants of Sikkim.

“Every Lepcha family has their own loom in their house and these loom frames are made of bamboo as they don’t have modern mechanism. With the help of this loom they make the cloth in their respective houses,” said Shanti Tamang, Instructor, Directorate of Handmade and Handloom Industry, Sikkim.

Handloom weaving in Sikkim is synonymous with the Lepcha weave. It is woven primarily in the ‘loin’ loom, which gives the fabric a superior quality. The weave frame is made from the bamboo and other wood.

The department has applied for the Geographical Indications (GI) registration of the art.
” This weave art originally belongs to the Lepcha community, we want to avoid the exploitation of this art in the handloom market.

Therefore we have applied for it’s GI registration and for that we are busy in the research work and hope to make it happen within 1-2 years,” said Karma Bhutia, Deputy Director, Directorate of Handmade and Handloom Industry, Sikkim.

The cloth woven is ideally suited for curtains, bags, tablemats, belts, shawls, bed-covers and cushion-covers.

Handicraft products from Sikkim are gaining recognition and accolades from all parts of the world. And this fame and popularity seems to have encouraged the craftsmen of Sikkim even more.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Saris Becoming Scarce

Hand weavers are both men and women, this is
an Indigo Handloom weaver from West Bengal.

In the following article the discussion is reasons for the decline in demand of Saris in India. It is theorized that it could be the changing styles of the modern Indian woman, or the import of machine woven saris from China; but the result is that it is putting a strain on the already small business that is hand weaving in India.
by Jessica Pudussery

I am standing in Dilli Haat, New Delhi's popular open-air handicrafts market, feeling a little guilty. My usual uniform for a hot summer evening — jeans, sandals and a comfortable cotton tunic — is putting people out of business.

"People in Delhi have abandoned their own traditional clothing," says Bilal Ahmed, 24, a weaver who works for his family business in Jammu and Kashmir. Ahmed and his family specialize in Kadhai work, a type of embroidery. "We have started making more suits and shirts than saris," he says. "People don't buy saris anymore. Now they buy jeans."

Ahmed has been working in the sari business for the past 13 years, during which the popularity of the famous garb has declined drastically in India's cities. Handloom-weaving is a small-scale business, so there are no comprehensive statistics to track it, but weavers say they've noticed a marked decline in the past decade.

V.P. Sharma, 48, has been employed as a weaver in the handloom sari industry in Bihar since 1988. He blames the slowdown on women's changing tastes. It is particularly bad for handloom saris — the simple cotton saris that many Indian women used to wear every day. Their plain designs and muted colors have no appeal for women like Rashmi Raniwal, a 22-year-old sales assistant.

"Sari?" she says, giggling. "I never wear it casually, only for formal occasions."

Sales do pick up in the winter, Delhi's high season for lavish parties and weddings, but fashionable young women are more interested in designer saris in sheer fabrics made on power looms, not the traditional handwoven silks like the ones in their mothers' cabinets.
"I'm a sari freak," says Deepa Nangia, 36, a nutritionist. "I love wearing saris for parties and functions, but that's only designer saris, actually. Who wears traditional saris anymore?"

She adds that she is the only one in her circle of friends who has any interest in wearing saris at all. "Youngsters feel like it's more 'oldy' stuff," she says. "I think it's just gradually dying out with time."

The most prized Indian sari styles — Banarasi and Kanjeevaram silks — are also facing new competition. Depending on the intricacy of design, it takes 15 to 30 days to weave one of these saris, which sell for $50 to $60.

A Banarasi silk weaver, Abdul Basit Ansari, 37, has been working for the past 20 years weaving these garments, which come from the holy city of Varanasi.

"The industry is facing lots of difficulties," he says. "This is primarily because the sale of fake Banarasi saris made in power looms has been picking up and also because of the sale of cheap imports from China. The government is not stopping this, and our trade is suffering."

Even in South India, where saris are much more popular than in the north, weavers are having trouble finding a market. Kanjeevaram saris, made in the town of Kanjeevaram, near Chennai, are made by cooperative weaver societies.

In 2004, there were 22 weaver societies in Kanjeevaram, but only 13 are left today, according to Business Today. Of these 13, only five say they are doing well. Last year, the 13 weavers sold about $12 million worth of saris, down from $40 million in 2004.

The best-known sari shops, like Nalli, which has gleaming showrooms in several big Indian cities, have contracts with some Kanjeevaram weaver co-ops, which is helping them hang on. But it isn't enough to stop people from fleeing the profession.

In and around Kanchipuram, famous for the Kanjeevaram silk saris that hail from this region, the manpower in the weaving industry has gone down drastically, from 60,000 10 years ago to about 20,000 today.

While those dwindling numbers may spell the death of India's traditional weaving skills, women in Delhi embrace the change as a sign of progress.

"There is a general perception that you would consider a woman in Western formal wear more empowered than her more traditional counterparts," says Kriti Budhiraja, 20, a political science student at Delhi University.

And to be fair, the sari industry is not exactly putting up a fight. It's exiting the stage slowly and almost imperceptibly, with the exception perhaps of Indian soap operas, in which every woman is dressed in an impeccably ironed and draped sari while she cooks and schemes against her mother-in-law.

Of course, everyone knows that's not real life.

Child Labor in Sari Production

A story was published today in The Telegraph (Kolkata, India) about the use of child labor in the hand weaving industry of Bengal. These children are sold into the industry and can only be extracted from the situation by paying off the loan parents receive upon the child's employment.

Indigo Handloom in no way supports child labor which is why we visit our weavers often to make sure there are no children employed by our weavers.

It is also important to be aware of the injustices occurring in any industry.

The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)
Sujoy Singh Roy wrote:
Nakashipara, July 26: Many of Bengal’s famous handloom saris, badges of high culture that sell for a neat sum in cities, are woven over the tears of children pushed into slavery by their parents for money.

Handloom owners in Na- dia’s Nakashipara pay poverty-stricken parents between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 for a child, who works for about a fourth of the wages of an adult.

The money is handed as a loan but most villagers are unable to repay it and the children, some as young as six, are stuck with the loom owners for years on end.

Two children together we-ave one taant sari in a week and earn Rs 150 each. The sa-me sari often sells for as much as Rs 1,200.

According to a rough district labour wing estimate, 2,000 children are employed in the 400-odd units in the area. Thirteen-year-old Meno Khatoon was pulled out of sch-ool and sent to “train” at a lo-om five years ago. Three years ago, her sister Parveena join-ed her.
Rahima Bibi, 45, admits taking Rs 20,000 for her elder daughter and Rs 15,000 for the younger one.

“What could I do? My husband, a labourer, has been suffering from a nerve disorder for the past five years. I needed money for his treatment and the mahajan (the loom owner) came to my aid. I am totally dependent on my daughters' income,” said the mother. Meno and Parveena toge-ther make four saris in a mon-th and earn Rs 1,200.

The younger girl, working since the age of six, has never gone to a school. Even if the mother wants to take her children to school now, she can’t. “I can’t ever repay the loan. So, my daughters will have to continue working,” said Rahima.

Meno said her eyes once welled up every time she saw a girl in school uniform. “I don’t cry now,” she said, furiously weaving away.

Since Rahima could provide two working hands, the mahajan installed a loom in their house. But in the absence of electricity at home, the sis- ters have to work without a break from 9am to ensure they finish their day’s task before sunset. That means there is no lunch break.

Others like Azhar Sheikh, 13, go to work in larger units, where scores of children sweat it out together. Every morning, he goes to work with his two sisters. Their father died of cancer last year. Neither Azhar nor his sisters Panobati, 14, and Mani- sha, 16, have ever been to school.

“I have taken Rs 80,000 from the loom owner over the past three years for my three children. All the money went into my husband’s treatment. Now, if my children don’t work, what will we eat?” said Sufal Bewa.

The loom owners employ the children because they cost less and there is no chance of them quitting because of their parents' debt. They see nothing wrong in the “system”.

“If the parents want to take their children back, they will have to repay their loans. If they want to go to school they can leave the job. But before that we must have our money back,” said Chamu Mirja, a handloom owner at Kachkuli village, where Meno lives.

Adult handloom workers get Rs 80 a day and often quit if the working conditions don’t suit them.

The children work for eight hours a day, 365 days a year, but get an hour’s lunch break. The young hands are spared if they take ill. Sources said units that employed children spent less than Rs 500 to make an “expensive” sari.

District magistrate O.S. Meena said a probe had been ordered into the use of child labour at Nakashipara, 130km from Calcutta. “Making children work like this is illegal and we will take strong action against those responsible.”

Nakashipara, a handloom hub in Nadia like Shantipur and Phulia, has an annual bu-siness of over Rs 1.5 crore.