The unskilled Venkataswamy
Pankaj Sekhsaria finds out why handloom is viable--yet neglected
V Venkataswamy u/s--a small sign painted in grey beside the door of a locked house in the new weavers colony of Chinnur in the Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. It is an image from a visit almost a decade ago, but it remains vividly etched in my mind. So does the story.
U/s stood for unskilled and this is what Venkataswamy had advertized about himself. I never met Venkataswamy, but was told he was employed as a chowkidar in the Mineral Exploration Corporation Limited--in the identity card issued by his employers he had been identified as V Venkataswamy u/s.
He gave up the chowkidar's job, moved to Bhilai to work as domestic help for a while and then came back to Chinnur to make a living as an autorickshaw driver.
The unskilled Venkataswamy was in fact one of the finest weavers of cotton handlooms in the entire region.
Why did Venkataswamy give up weaving? How did he get the u/s label? Why did he accept it? Did he not believe weaving needed skill? What kind of a system do we have that turns a craftsperson into a daily wage earner and then brands him u/s?
Certain basic facts might help explain the continued and vital relevance of this industry to the country and place the unskilled story in context. Andhra Pradesh is a good case in point. Not only is the state known for some of the most famous handloom traditions like the khadi of Ponduru, the silks of Pochampalli and the handloom sarees of Mangalgiri and Gadwal, it also provides employment to nearly 200,000 families across the state and generates an annual output of more than Rs 1,000 crore. A large number of families are also involved in activities that are considered ancillary but critical to the handloom production cycle.
The national scenario is not very different--an estimated 12 million families are employed in the handloom sector that produces nearly 13 per cent of the nation's textiles. It is a livelihood that is rooted in the local context of the weaver, is completely in control of the weaving family, involves high degree of skill and precision and is one of the most environment friendly and economically viable activities, whose carbon emission, for instance, is virtually nil.
|Most pre-loom processes are done by women. The women of Ponduru (Srikakulam, AP) are skilled spinners|
|Yarn from this village is used to produce muslin|
|Weavers from Kolluru village, Adilabad, at a workshop organized by Dastkar Andhra|
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.