Promoting Rural livelihoods

The History of Handlooms in India!

Posted on June 1st, 2022 01:27 PM
Rural artisan

Handloom refers to wooden frames of different types which are used by skilled artisans to weave fabrics usually from cotton, silk, wool, jute, etc. Here entire family is involved in the production of cloth. Right from spinning the yarn, and coloring, to weaving on the loom if done by them. The fabric produced from these looms is referred to as Handloom.   

Indian Handloom stems from the Indus valley civilization. In the ancient past, Indian fabrics were exported to Rome, Egypt, and China. The handloom industry belongs to the pre-independence period when the new economic policy in India was implemented to thrust this industry. The Textile Policy 1985 promoted handloom.   

Earlier, the entire process of cloth making was self-reliant. The cotton/silk/wool that came from farmers, foresters or shepherds, was cleaned and transformed by weavers or the agricultural laborers. Small handy instruments were used in the process, including the Charkha, mostly by women. This handspun yarn was later made into cloth by the weavers.    

However, during British rule, India was turned into an exporter of raw cotton, and was flooded with machine-made imported yarn. This resulted in a complete loss of livelihood for the spinners, and dependence of handloom weavers on machine yarn. When yarn came from a distance and had to be bought, yarn dealers and financiers became necessary and the weavers fell into the grip of middlemen. Thus, the independence of most weavers disappeared, and a majority of them came to work for a Trader on a contract basis.   

Despite this Indian handloom sustained itself, until World War I 1 when imported machine-made clothes flooded the Indian Market. At the beginning of Power looms in the 1920s, the consolidation of the mills and the high cost of yarn made an unfair competition that led to the decline of Handloom. This was when the Swadeshi Movement reintroduced hand spinning in the name of Khadi. Every Indian was pushed to spin the yarn using Charkhas and wear Khadi. This led to the Mills in Manchester closing. This was also a huge turning point in the Indian independence movement. People burnt imported clothes and  wore Khadi. After independence, textile and spinning mills continued to function in India.   

The handloom sector plays a vital role in the country's economy, being the second-largest economic activity after agriculture. The government is now implementing several measures to optimize all the resources available. It contributes to about 22% of the cloth produced in the country. According to the 2010 census, 4.4 million families were engaged in hand weaving.   

Andhra Pradesh is home of 359,212 weaver families working in primary cooperative handloom societies. Ludhiana in Punjab, is considered the center for manufacturing wool textiles, while Coimbatore creates textiles made of cotton. Tiruppur in Tamil Nadu is the main producer of hosiery and creates the material primarily for export.   

However, the handloom sector had to face competition from cheap imports, design imitations from power loom, and the Covid-19 pandemic only worsening the situation. In addition, government funding and policy protection declined drastically. The cost of natural fiber yarn has also increased tremendously, making it unaffordable for the common people. Consequently, many weavers are quitting weaving and going for unskilled labor work.   

Therefore, a transformation needs to occur in the handloom sector in terms of better market access, innovative marketing drives, enhanced production facilities, and resolute technologies.  

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