The road to Kancheepuram may be paved with silk, but life for the weavers of the textile town has not been smooth over the past decade. While the town has around 40 silk handloom weavers co-operative societies — with thousands of spinners as members — a majority is sinking under the weight of debt.
Blame it on the poor capital inflow, increasing costs of raw material, low-cost duplicates, competition from mechanised designing and production and mismanagement of resources by the societies, there has been steady decline in the fortunes of the traditional handloom weaving trade.
It was not always like this, the weaving community recalls. “15-20 years ago, societies used to pay even 110 per cent bonus to the weavers,” a board member of a co-operative society said.
While around 3,300 weavers are registered with his society, only some 800 are active now.
About 90 per cent of the district’s 2.71 lakh residents are weavers. Many are quitting the profession in search of a company job that assures them of a steady income.
A Kannan (49) took to weaving at the age of 15. Married with three children, the lack of steady work and the increasing costs of raw material and cardboard strips that shape the designs have put a question mark on his survival.
“It takes three days to weave an ordinary five-and-a-half metre silk saree and will fetch `200. An intricately woven one will fetch around `400,” he said. “If I get `6,000 a month, I can hope to make ends meet.”
With duplicate varieties, mechanically designed and produced and available at one-fourth of the cost of a pure Kancheepuram silk saree, the future has become uncertain for the weavers.
“Our society has incurred a debt of `7.64 crore,” one office-bearer said. “Whatever sales transaction we make through Cooptex is routed through our bank, which deducts the amount we owe them and we are left with nothing.”
The lack of fresh capital infusion due to debt burden is what is ailing the trade, he argued. “The government writes off farmers loans. Similarly, let it waive off our societies’ loans too,” he said.
Already, the state govt has tried to aid capital inflow by securing a loan of `540 crore through National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the board member pointed out. “Arignar Anna Silk Cooperative Society has received `9 crore and Kancheepuram Murugan Silk Handloom Weavers Co-op Production and Sale Society has got `7 crore,” he said.
“The government has also provided 100 per cent subsidy for Jacquard weaving machines.” Besides, the govt has tried to streamline the functioning of the societies by appointing a special officer to monitor the purchase of silk and the quality of the yarn, he added.