HYDERABAD: After enquiring about each and every Gongadi, asking to open and describe its make, one customer at the Gongadi exhibition left without making a purchase. He tried to negotiate, asked them for the last price and finally informed, “The entire globe is bargaining. Why can’t I? Well, it’s your wish then.”
They will not reduce the price because they are not overpriced, and are sold at a reasonable profit. “Every step in the process of making a Gongadi takes time – 20 days on an average and at least 20 Deccani sheep’s wool to make one Gongadi. That makes up for the price,” informs Sai Gonda, who is part of the Telangana Gorrela Mekala Pempakadalura Sangham (TGMPS). Like Sai, weavers from Telangana were in the city this weekend – not just to make some money and go back home. But, to initiate a dialogue with the people in the city, as they too are part of this never-ending cycle of sustenence.
The exhibition was held in association with Anthra, an NGO that was fundamental in kickstarting this revival process, close to 20 years ago – going around villages in Telangana, finding out reasons why they stopped weaving Gongadis and educating them about how important it is to revive the process.
“Anthra played a role in working with the community as a support and organise them into a sangham. Today it is self- directing and is capable of governing itself. So now we have taken a step back,” informs Sagari Ramdas, founder of Anthra.
TGMPS along with Adivasi Aikya Vedika, Ottavapantala Mahila Vedila, Grama Sangham and also co-producers then formed the Food Sovereignity Alliance – where the co-producers comprise individuals who are not producers of food, neither are they mere consumers. They are ones who are interested and want to know the hows and whys of its production. And FSA is solidarity platform for these organisations and provides opportunities to all its members in different ways. “This exhibition is one such platform for the weaving community to articulate their struggles in defence of their livelihood. We want people to know that it is continuing to be a challenge,” explains Sagari.
She also points out that the Telangana government has not been doing much, as yet. “There is not a single, clear cut strategy by the government to defend these livelihoods – that are linked to land, food, agriculture and resources. Every policy today is clearly directed towards industrialisation or converting lands for real estate,” she says. Indutrialisation and real estate, along with cross-breeding led to fall in the population of Deccani sheep that was almost on the verge of extinction.
Sai Gonda recalls. “Deccani sheep were cross-bred with Nellore sheep because we were all under the government’s influence for quick gains. Nellore sheep have no wool at all and the conditions they are bred in are lush green with lot of water. Deccani sheep are bred in dry and arid Telangana. Nellore sheep were crossed with Deccani sheep for meat. As the breding conditions are different, it led to fall in the quality of the wool. The sheep were always down with some disease or the other,” he explains.
This automatically affected the community’s way of life – their food and livelihood. This was the time when Anthra came into the picture and the revival of this process started. “They enquired about why we stopped making Gongadis and asked us if we would like to restart the process if we are provided with resources. We then became members of the sangham which is now capable of taking its own decisions,” he shares. Being part of FSA, one of their demands from the government is to provide them with black male sheep (pottelu) instead of Nellore sheep.
“We are willing to sell the same to the goverment if they want and we wish to see it spreading to other districs too as the revival right now is limited only to Medak district,” says Sai Gonda.
The participation of youngsters is also steadily increasing. Deepu M, who works with FSA says, “The number of people left in the process of laying the loom is reduced to just three elders in the villages. However, at a recent meeting that was held, there were close to 60 youngsters willing to invest in learning the craft which is postive.”