An inconvenient weave

Handloom workers across the country are in distress, but there is no one to hear them 


When working on a handloom, one requires pinpoint precision — from winding a warp and dressing a loom to threading heddles and sleying the reed. The weavers are focused and quiet. The only sound is that of the wooden frames going up and down, working in sync to create the perfect weave. Amidst this din, the Union Ministry of Textiles has silently abolished the All India Handloom Board, leaving local weavers adrift.

The notification issued on July 27 reads, “In consonance with the Government of India vision’s of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’, a leaner government machinery and the need for systematic rationalisation of government bodies, the Government of India has abolished All India Handloom Board with effect from the date of this resolution.”

For context, the Handloom Board was first set up in 1952 and later revamped in 1992 with the aim to bring all stakeholders together to advise the government in formulating policies for the overall development of the sector. Over the years, it looked after employment and marketing assistance for weavers and also made sure that they were insured under various government schemes. After losing this prominent voice, weavers were understandably angry. In Andhra Pradesh’s Devangapuri handloom cluster, the local weavers took to the streets and staged a protest demanding reconstitution of the Board. But, in India, protests happen every other day but change seldom.

According to public policy reviewer Dr D Narasimha Reddy, the government's reasoning behind abolishing the board is ‘specious’. In a press note, he mentions that the Board’s meetings had not been convened over the past few years and the budget allocated was a meager 100,000 per year. Demanding immediate reconstitution of the Board, he mentions in the note: “Handloom is a competitive sector in India, unlike in other countries where it is reduced to tourism locations”.

Meanwhile, in subsequent notifications issued within a week, the Ministry of Textiles also scrapped the handicrafts board and the powerloom board. On August 7, the Textiles Minister urged people to share pictures in handloom wear and be #Vocal4Handmade. As celebrities flooded social media with their selfies to pledge support to the movement, hundreds of weavers silently endured the irony.