Union textiles minister Smriti Irani needs to be complimented for taking up the cause of weavers. While organising the Handloom Day at Varanasi, she exhorted countrymen to use and promote handloom products. She disclosed that the “I-wear-handloom” hashtag that she has been promoting has reached 100 million people. If they really use handloom products, it will make a huge difference to the lives of weavers. As history bears out, India’s handloom products, which won the hearts of all, suffered the first setback when Britain used manipulative trade practices to kill the industry while dumping mill-made clothes in India. It never regained its old health.
During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi tried to give a push to the handloom sector when under his leadership clothes made in England were burnt and people were encouraged to use Khadi. Initially, Khadi products were sold only to those who could supply Khadi thread. It lost much of its importance once India became independent and an indigenous cloth industry began to prosper in centres like Bombay, Delhi, Surat, Coimbatore and Calcutta. The handloom sector continued to suffer. The dichotomy is that while handloom products are very expensive, the weavers do not get even a fraction of the profit. This is because the weavers cannot sell their products except through some limited outlets.
The sum of `33,000 crore the Centre has allocated for weavers is tidy but more important is the campaign to promote the use of handloom products. Irani should follow up the social media blitz with action on the ground. She has appealed to e-commerce companies to link up with the producers so that they get a forum to sell their products. She should explore other options too and help weavers like those in Telangana, market their products without being cheated. A hassle-free accessible platform would be ideal for them.