The government’s insensitivity towards the Handloom Industry has created fear among weavers
The lush greenery and tall plantation of Areca nut on either side of the road from Sagara Taluk to Heggodu Grama describe the beauty of the place and its serenity. As one enters Heggodu, they shall find a small shop to the right corner of the street, namely Charaka Andagi (shop).
The angadi sells khadi products like Shirts, Sarees, Khaudi (Quilt made of leftover clothes) and other khadi products but their sales in a day is almost zero.
Charaka began in 1994 and to support it Kavi Kavya, a trust was formed. Since then it has been an active cultural organization. Heggodu Prasanna, initially started the trust which involved only cultural activities, soon he realized that he wanted to bring a change in the mindset of the women and then began the Charaka to employ the women of the village which was rich in culture.
The organization has involved the Anganawadis (Government Childcare Centers) in the villages of Shimoga District, which allows the women to work freely while their children are being taken care of.
Charaka Angadi receives its Khadi products from a village called the Shrama Jeevi Grama, which is a sister organisation and also provides employment to the women of Sagara.
Heggodu Prasanna the main pillar behind the existence of Charaka initiated the idea of employment for the women of Sagara. “If it is not for Prasanna, this wouldn’t have happened,” said Parama Samshie Bhatt, one of the trustees of Charaka.
Charaka, a rustic area, with red and brick structure and Hasey kale (art) on the walls of the area, is a Handloom organization. The energy of young women giggling and chirping fills the air of Charaka.
Every day in the morning around 9 am the employees of Charaka begin their day by attending a morning assembly called Prarthana, following which they carry on with their respective jobs.
There are various units in the Shramajeevi Grama which helps in processing the fabrics. There is a dyeing unit which produces natural dye from plants grown in the vicinity, the thread weaving unit weaves the thread into rolls which is used while creating pieces of cloth, the infusing colour unit focuses on infusing colour to the thread that have been weaved, the drying unit is a massive area which helps in drying everything from threads to pieces of cloth, and finally the Magga is the handmade machine which combines all the processes and weaves it into one fine cloth.
Samshie Bhatt, an old man, with grey hair and grey French beard, wore a yellow Khadi jubba and a grey Khadi pant and sat in the corner of Charaka while describing his journey.
“This place was a damaged shed before and then turned into this beautiful home. The Kaigarike department (Handloom department) decided to help Prasanna and asked him to use the land for helping the people, and that is how Charaka began.”
But the problem lies here, that due to the new government policy called Goods and Service Tax (GST), the handlooms are suffering. “We use the money from the government only to fulfil the basic needs for the looms and nothing else. Our salary and everything purely depends on the sales we make out of it,” said Samshie Bhatt. “Earlier there was no tax on the thread which is used for weaving but this GST issued 10% tax on threads which is a major hit for the production. The production cost will also increase.”
“The thread that comes to power looms and handlooms is almost the same but the tax is the problem. The power loom people do not know the value of it and use it to their whims and fancies but we the weavers know its pain and hence use it wisely. The power looms can bear such expenses, what about us?” questioned Samshie Bhatt.
Worried Samsie Bhatt said that if the handlooms don’t make enough money then the weavers and artists might have to go home without taking salaries which might lead to the death of these weavers and artists. The age-old tradition of Magga might soon become extinct which is frightening for the looms.
In the past years, we have noticed a lot of people leaving the organization; at least three people leave every month and join the power looms in the nearby village to earn a better salary.
“I basically have areca nut cultivation but due to irregular rainfall in the region it’s difficult to completely depend on it and hence I choose to work in Charaka,” said Samshie Bhatt. He added; though there is a certain doubt that the loom might shut down anytime, the fight for retaining it in the market is hard. “The back-bone of this lies on our women,” said Samshie Bhatt.
Women earlier would fear to step out of their homes to work and some of the women who were working would work under the upper class people as domestic maids. After the installation of Maggas in the villages, women have started to work here with their head held high, but with a passion to work, it has taken an ugly turn of greed. There are more than 75 women of different age groups working in the handlooms. Each of them is assigned a task and they do it with absolute interest but due to the power looms these women today are facing a major crisis.
Chaitra, another young lady in her early 30’s, informed us that her friend initially started to work at Charaka but has moved to the nearby power loom industry to earn better, which is affecting the functioning of the handlooms. “Every time someone leaves the Magga and joins the power loom, there is no one to operate the magga and hence the machine becomes stiff, it takes more than a week to weave a perfect one-meter piece of cloth,” complained Chaitra. “Due to the stiffness of the machine, we cannot weave in turn we lose our wage. This greed has been created by the power looms and the women fall prey to it,” said Chaitra.
In some sense, the organization is trying to strike a balance between machine and the hand that runs it. It creates a different kind of a lifestyle, one that is more ethnic, rich in folklore and has human emotions attached to it.
The major problem for the weavers is the money they earn. Pavithra a young girl in her early 20’s said that working in the magga is exciting but the income is low which sometimes puts her in a dilemma between Handlooms and Powerlooms. “We get paid about Rs 3500 to Rs 8000 per month while power loom pays double the salary, which is obviously good for us,” said Pavithra.
“Our earning entirely depends on the demand for the products which is sold. The only reason why I am still working here is because of the tradition that has been practiced in my home. My mother would earlier work here, as she grew old, I took it up,” said Pavithra.
Charaka largely produces Khadi products such as Jubbas, Sarees, Quilts and other products. Each item produced has the name of the weaver on it and more importantly, the time spent on creating each of these products cannot be measured in hours but in days. “The power looms manufacture the same products but within a few hours just by the press of a button which is devastating,” said Chaitra.
The struggle for the handlooms is not just the labor but also the government not considering them seriously. The Government of Karnataka recently has launched a new scheme which aims at providing Roof Top Solar Equipment to ensure that the power scarcity problem doesn’t affect the looms. The scheme has been implemented throughout the Karnataka State Textile Infrastructure Development Corporation, a scheme from which handlooms rarely benefit.
“In a place where ten people can work, the power loom employs only one person to operate the machine and it results in unemployment of the others but it is very difficult to make the weavers understand this. The money pulls them to work in power looms, which kills the tradition of handlooms,” said Samshie Bhatt.
There is an Under Converged Group Insurance Scheme (GIS) which is structured under the AABY (Aam Admi Bheema Yojana) Scheme after convergence for existing members of GIS is as under. The insurance mentions that if anyone within the age of 51-59 years dies a natural death, they get an insurance payout of Rs 60,000 .There are various other schemes, but since handlooms are run mostly on their own, the government doesn’t have any for them. Heggodu Prasanna said the government only considers the power looms and helps them. If they keep launching new schemes for them, what about handloom industry?
“While the government under the Group Savings Linked Insurance Scheme (GSLI) has provided us with an insurance of Rs 10,000 , it is extremely less,” complained Heggodu Prasanna.
DESI acts as a mediator between the Charaka and the urban world. Once the product is complete, it is exported to DESI and the people here fix a price higher than the actual price and earn their profit. For example, a saree might cost Rs 1200 if you buy it in Charaka Angadi but in DESI it will cost you Rs 1750 which is nearly 45 percent of the profit.
“People prefer buying products from Fabindia and other online stores for a cheaper price but don’t want to pay anything for us. Our price on products might be high but what is the other way to feed our weavers when government doesn’t care two-hoots for us,” furiously said Samshie Bhatt.
Many artists and celebrities buy products from DESI in order to promote the usage of handlooms. Arundathi Nag, a theatre artist expressed her joy of wearing khadi sarees. “The khadi sarees are the best to wear and they tend to become softer as one uses it often. Prasanna is doing everything he can to spread awareness of the handlooms,” said Nag.
While the profit earned by DESI goes to into the pockets of Charaka, to help the organization run peacefully without any hurdles. Yet, the handlooms are trying to stand strong without paying heed to the power looms.
People from all over the world are now purchasing Kadhi and there has been a 31.3% increase in import of Khadhi in 2017 when compared to 2016 according to reports by the Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports and Imports.
The struggle between the handlooms and power looms continues to exist and yet the women of Charaka are fearless and continue to weave to retain the rich culture and tradition of the handlooms.