Odisha weavers get Ministry of Textiles proposal revoked

A successful signature campaign was carried out in November 2013 by handloom weavers of Odisha demanding the Ministry of Textiles to revoke the dangerous proposal of revising definition of handloom under Handloom Reservation Act 1985. Following is the memorandum that was submitted on December 16th 2013.

Date: 16th December 2013

The Minister of Textiles,
Govt. of India,
New Delhi

Sub: Memorandum by handloom weavers of Odisha demanding the Ministry of Textiles to revoke the proposal of revising definition of handloom under Handloom Reservation Act 1985 and implementing their list of demands.

Dear Sir,

It has come to our notice from various media reports that the Indian Ministry of Textiles is proposing to redefine handloom, as defined under the Handloom Reservation of  Articles for Production Act as any loom other than powerloom, into a new definition that reads, any hybrid loom on which at least one process of weaving requires manual intervention or human energy for production.

On the outset, we the weavers of Odisha, would like to make it clear that we consider any such move to be against the democratic spirit of the republic of India. The definition of handloom cannot be changed without the consensus of the handloom weaving community, as we are the true custodians and practitioners of handloom. Please do not forget that this concerns 2.5 million Indian families who have thrived for generations on handloom weaving practices. The handloom sector is economically viable, ecologically sustainable and provides proud and dignified employment to more people in their own homes than all the power loom & mill sectors put together where the art of the weaver is reduced to semi-skilled labour. The Govt.’s neo-liberal policies will work little when the answer lies in our own origin as a nation on the basis of the weaver’s spinning wheel as its pivot. We strongly urge the Ministry, to issue a clarification in the media if there is any such proposal to redefine handloom and address our questions and demands discussed below.

If such a secret proposal of redefining handloom has indeed made its way to the policy table then we would like to strongly lodge our statement of protest against it. To redefine handloom is to redefine the lives of millions of people without even asking them. If there is such a proposal, then, we demand that the Ministry first conduct formal consultation with the handloom weavers of India and find out what the weavers really want. The media reports make us believe that such a proposal is essentially aimed at allowing more Govt. expenditure in the power loom sector. We are shocked that the Govt. is aspiring to save & promote the powerloom sector by destroying the handloom sector. As it is, the market for handloom is severely threatened by the power loom and big mill sectors. We demand to know, that instead of ensuring the Handloom Reservation Act is upheld and weavers get justice in the marketplace, why is the Ministry trying to appease big business and effectively wipe out not only reservation for handloom but the very meaning of it? Why has the Handloom Reservation Act 1985 not been strongly implemented, and the powerloom sector not been barred from producing articles listed under the Act?

Restrictions and checks should be made on imports of foreign mill yarn and powerloom cloth coming to India and sold in domestic markets as it poses direct threat to handloom. The right over cotton and silk produced within the country is inherently vested in the traditional handloom weavers of India who have kept this craft and trade alive for thousands of years. India’s real economic backbone is handloom weaving and unless the spine of the nation is not strengthened we have no future. We are currently forced to purchase expensive yarns and dyes imported to Odisha. Raw material locally produced should be encouraged to be absorbed locally rather than being exported to other states and countries specially cotton. There should be a check on the sudden inflation recorded in yarn prices which ultimately means the wages of the weavers being compromised in order to control the end market price of handloom products. We demand to know what measures the Ministry has taken to address the inflation of cotton and silk yarn prices and its impact on handloom?

The National Handloom Development Center should help in making hank yarns available at subsidized rates to individual weavers, small scale SHGs and cooperative societies as we find it difficult to afford huge quantities in single purchases.

In accordance to the inflation in the market, weavers’ wages should increase. Strategies are needed to save our market spaces in villages, small towns and big urban cities that is being rapidly appropriated by globalisation. Local haats and bazaars need to be preserved, protected and even revived in every district near weaving villages, so that local markets are strengthened and weavers are able to build a direct link with wholesale and retail buyers. An investigation has to be set up to weed out corruption within Govt. Actors as well as identify and close down defunct cooperative societies that are functioning only on paper with no real production.

Modifying the definition and in the bargain encouraging powerloom further is not a solution to the crisis faced by the handloom weavers. Rather it will further enhance the crisis. The handloom weavers of Odisha are hoping that the ministry of textiles will consider these demands illustrated above and implement them to immediate effect.

Please find enclosed along with, the endorsement of this memorandum by 1448 weavers of Jajpur and Cuttack districts.

Thanking You.

Yours Sincerely,
Handloom Weavers

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