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How Handloom and Khadi growing demand have potential to mitigate cotton farmers’ issues?

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A spiritual pilgrim working towards 'Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinaḥ'. Founder @LokNeetiTalks Author: Bharat Sutra

Handloom and Khadi business is one of the unorganised sectors, and emerging market in India, constituting an integral part of the rural and semi rural livelihood. After the call of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tremendous increase in production as well as export was noticed since 2014. In comparison with the rest of Indo-Pacific region, India has largest working handlooms. In fact, 95% of the world’s handlooms come from India and handlooms are the largest employer in the country after agriculture. India could become a heaven for hand-made, pure textile industry with their cotton farmers and weavers. Growing demand of handmade goods and pure cotton across the world, India could be world’s handloom cotton fabric supplier.

Various schemes have been launched after Modi govt came into center focused on handloom weavers:

  • National Handloom Development Program – two components:

–      Revival, Reform and Restructuring (RRR) Package for the handloom sector.

–      Comprehensive Handlooms Development Scheme.

  • Handloom Weavers Comprehensive Welfare Scheme – two components:

–      Health Insurance Scheme for access to health care facilities

–      Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima Yojana for life insurance

  • Yarn Supply Scheme.
  • Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme (Mega Cluster Scheme).

Also, National Handloom Development Program (NHDP) is being implemented as a Centrally Sponsored Program for development of handlooms. Subsequent to the implementation of XIV Finance Commission recommendations, it has been restructured as Central Sector Scheme in June, 2015. The scheme is having following components:

–      Revival, Reform & Restructuring (RRR) package for the handloom sector.

–      Comprehensive Handloom Development scheme (CHDS).

In the past number of cases of farmers committing suicide and a section of weavers leaving their traditional business has increased. There may be various reasons to correlate, but one of predominant was financial.

Cotton farming has become a high-risk activity due to its dependency on climate. Also, demand of spinning machinery companies, farmers are obliged to grow genetically modified variety, rather than indigenous varieties. Since India’s diverse soil properties and micro-climates, and native varieties were adapted to their local conditions over the centuries, the genetically modified varieties failed to adapt to Indian climate. As a result of poor crop production, this leads to economic loss of farmers.

There must be industry-farmer understanding what farmers must grow, which will enhance the productivity and risk is the farmers if the crop fails. Continued drought was noticed in past one followed by another, the burden become unbearable for farmers at economic and social fronts too. In most of the cases it was shown that a farmer has committed suicide on unpaid debt but analytics failed to understand the depth of physiological pressure the farmer went through. Successive failure of the harvest force family to create such chaotic atmosphere of owning houses that force farmer to take extreme steps.

In case of weavers, it was observed that machines made copies of handloom fabrics, which is illegal, are cutting the demand of handloom in the market. The market values of copy cat fabrics are much lower than the handloom one which declines the demand of handmade fabrics.  A handwoven, Varanasi Saris may cost 5000-10000 or more, while a printed one machine made copy is available for 1000-2000. While private/cooperative entities go to court to protect their brands, whereas in lack of resources handloom weavers communities are unable to do so. After, present government various schemes enforce the law and ensure that hand-weavers must get that they entitled to. Also, various financial schemes to improve the machineries as well as cover insurance have given new boost in community.

Now larger question is how can a farmer and weaver benefit from growing cotton and weaving cotton cloth? As asked for one of prominent Khadi activists, socialist leader GG Park. Mr. Patrick is in his thoughts, share to the state and civil society will not recognize the value of small farmers and weavers conditions will not change. Customer to supplier connection must be honest and felt. In terms of Gandhi, ‘This is not cloth, but a thought’. A single small scale agricultural based firm roughly gives employment to four people directly and three indirectly. With some encouragement from society and state, this could be the basis of decentralized, self-reliant and democratically managed cotton textile production. Dattopant Bapurao Thengadi, a noted Pracharak, expert in the social, economic and political issues, who disenchanted the both western developmental models, namely, Capitalism and Socialism, and propounded in his book “The Third Way” in terms of socioeconomic development based on the ideology of ‘Sanatan Dharma”. In his views on waivers, he asserted in state and society must rejoin hands of community to empower them. Also, he was in favor of the village centric development model so that communities will be self-reliant. As a result, livelihood and economy can be enhanced of dependent communities. Once economic empowerment achieved, social security can also be ensured.

As per recent 3rd Handlooms Census, carried out in 2009-10, out of the 38.47 lakh adult weavers and allied workers in the country, 77% are women and 23% male weavers, 10% of the weavers are from scheduled castes (SCs), 18% of the weavers are from scheduled tribes (STs), 45% are from other backward classes (OBCs) and 27% are from other castes. Therefore, reforms in the sector will work as co-benefit program and enhance the social security too.

Recently, social media noticed huge support on call of Minister Textile Smriti Irani, #IWearHandloom and it was interested to notice that many youngsters participated in the campaign. Indication of awareness in society towards handlooms and khadi products has increased in the recent past.

India’s ecosystem has potential for ecologically sustainable cotton cloth-making even in a time of climate crisis, unparalleled in the world. Change in central leadership, there is a chance to build an ecosystem as democratic, people-owned industries, village centric dispersed throughout the country.  Distribution of production must be reach throughout society, not just confined to few those afford. Also, sector required more mechanism to promote investment in infrastructural development to meet with demand for textile product. We have a government with good intention and a clear vision of development and took steps to empower the weavers’ community. It is time not to miss.

(Author is Research Fellow at India Foundation and views are personal. You can follow on twitter: @isatyendra.)

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A spiritual pilgrim working towards 'Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinaḥ'. Founder @LokNeetiTalks Author: Bharat Sutra
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