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Palmyra handicraft business down with Covid

While lockdown had severely impacted transport of crafts to other States, sales hasn’t picked up despite relaxations, rue workers

Published: 10th July 2021 04:29 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th July 2021 04:29 AM   |  A+A-

A woman from Nagalapuram making boxes with palmyra leaves | Express

Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI: The palmyra handicraft workers are yet to get back to normal from the Covid 19 induced impact on their business. The handicrafts made of Palmyra leaves and fibres are exported to various places from the district. However, the business had declined during the lockdown and they are yet to recover from the losses.

Several hundreds of women engage in handicrafts made of palmyra leaf and fibre. The modern handicrafts made of palm leaves and fibre have a good market in Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and northern states. The abundance of palmyra trees in Thoothukudi has been a backbone of the rural economy, with hundreds of families depending on the trees for their livelihood. While a section of people climb palmyra trees to extract its sap called ‘Pathaneer’ and process them into traditional ‘Karupatti’, a large section of women skillfully make handicrafts using the palm leaves and its fibre.

The chiefly traded palm leaf handicrafts include hand fan, bags, gift boxes, pouches, pooja bags, trays, toys, dolls, shopping bags, caps, ornaments, decorative products, boxes of different shapes and sizes.The palmyra products are known for their durability and the industry had a boom following the ban on plastics in the State.

A palmyra product producer and trader T Grace Juliet Diana of Sethukuvaithan village near Eral here told TNIE that the lock down restrictions had hindered the export to other states. A huge volume of palmyra handicrafts have been stacked up due to poor sales, she said. “I have stocked over 500 boxes made of palmyra leaves, and I am supposed to pay the craftswomen after trading”, she said.

“The palmyra products exported to northern states have been hit due to poor transport facilities during the lockdown even though it had been resumed partly now,” said Diana, who takes part in exhibitions organised by Mahalir Thittam of Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women. “The palmyra jewels and decorative products have a good market in Hyderabad, Kolkata and Delhi,” she said adding the orders are nil nowadays.

The state government did not conduct exhibitions due to the pandemic since the middle of 2020 except for this March, which had greatly reduced her business volume, she said. The Tamil Nadu government’s ban on plastics in 2017 had indeed boosted the palmyra products business, she asserted, however, the Covid-induced lockdowns had disrupted the business for the past two years.

A palm leaf crafter Shanthi says she makes five medium sized boxes which will fetch her at least 200 rupees in a day. Now, her palm leaves boxes have no demand, she said.  Geeva, a palm leaf crafter from Nagalapuram near Vilathikulam says that over 100 Dalit families in his village traditionally involve in crafting palm leaf boxes for several decades. They are all now jobless for the past three months, he said.

Over 1.8 lakh boxes of five different sizes are sold in a year, said Geeva, adding at least 20,000 unsold boxes have stagnated for the past three months. He said that the palm leaf boxes are in huge  demand during the temple festivals, church feasts, marriage functions and other festivities. However, the temple festivals and marriages are not allowed with full capacities, and it had drastically reduced the demand for the palmyra boxes, he rued.

Also, Geeva pointed out that they are much worried about the plastic bags which had slowly crept into the society again during the pandemic. X Rajathi, a handicrafter from Mattakadai working at Palmyra handicraft centre run by St Mary’s College here, said that the centre has been closed due to the restrictions imposed by the government. The palmyra ornamentary and decorative products are largely bought by nature enthusiasts and handicraft lovers living in far flung places, she said.

Even as lockdown restrictions are being unlocked, the public do not have enough money to spend on decorative items, said Diana, who sold Rs 50,000 worth palmyra handicrafts in a month before the pandemic. The government should take necessary steps to improve palmyra product trading, and provide Covid relief for the dependent labourers, they appealed.



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