Not too long ago, Sunder Nagri in Northeast Delhi, was a thriving colony of weavers, famous for exquisite craftsmanship. Today, it wails of wreckage with its last few mills.
“We have been working in the handloom industry since 1962. This is our ancestors’ business. Earlier, there was a lot of work. I had five Khadi machines, eight workers and my whole family was involved in the business, but now there is nothing left,” said 48-year-old Kanhaiya Lal.
“During the lockdown, the business hit its lowest point and in the past two years, I have had no work. I have shut my mill on the first floor and put it on rent, which is now my only source of income. However, if the government creates an environment of handloom marketing, and if the condition of this profession improves, I will start it again,” he said.
There was a time when almost every house in the colony had its own handloom. But now, it has almost died. Residents said that when the colony was emerging, plot allocation was done according to the space for handloom machines. More than a hundred factories were here then. The number has now shrunk to a mere 10.
Expensive raw materials
The surge in prices of raw materials is one of the main reasons for the decline, along with the availability of cheap Chinese products.
“Now, no one is interested in handloom. At one point of time, this was the garh (citadel) of Khadi. Yarn prices have risen, so paying labourers has also become tough. We don’t get enough returns in the market,” said Ajay Mathur, whose ancestors were also in the business.
Earlier they used to supply their products not only in Delhi, but also in Jaipur and Panipat. Now, it is barely running.
“This area was specially allotted for handloom. We worked day and night then. Earlier, I had 30-35 machines of handloom. Now, I have only eight. There is no help from the government. We are trying to save this handloom and the government should also do something for us. This is the last generation in this work. I’m also concerned for my future because this could shut down anytime as the condition of the market is vulnerable,” the 47-year-old said.
Earlier, Nanhey Ram (64) had so much work on his plate that there was “no time”. But in the past one-and-a-half years, his business has crashed “due to lack of administrative policies”. His sons have found work elsewhere.
Ram runs a factory named ‘Bheem Handloom’.
“I had registered this in 1984. I have no kaarigar (artisans) now. I had seven Khadi factories earlier. I had to sell five of them and have only two now. My sons go to work outside. If business was good, why would they go elsewhere for work,” he said.
“We don’t find any space in handloom expo, such as, Delhi Haat, Janpath due to policies. The situation in Delhi is bad. This year too, I sent my firm’s documents for renewal thinking that the government will do something,” he said hopelessly.
Security fault lines
“There is a serious security problem here. The local people consume drugs and rob factories and the police don’t do anything about that. They just take rounds but do nothing on the ground. Six months ago, a customer from Germany came to my factory, but local hooligans harassed and eve-teased her and she returned without buying anything. So, we are extremely disturbed,” said Ezaj, whose family’s firm was registered in 1974.
“Besides, outside the society’s gate, there are unnecessary trucks parked, so we face many problems during the supply of materials,” he added.
Gulab Chand, 46, is the only weaver in Sunder Nagri, and is currently an authorised handloom owner in the ministry of handloom’s weaver service centre. However, his business ‘Sujata Handloom Co-operative Society’ is also on the verge of closure.
“I had 46 handloom machines earlier, which has come down to three now. There is no sale and profit in our work now (showing his stock). If we produce materials, it is tough to sell. We go to private exhibitions and sell there. Another issue is that we don’t get the opportunity to showcase our work at government exhibitions because only a handful of us are valid now. If we get an entry, then people from all over the country who come there will know about our work. I couldn’t get a shop in the expo after the lockdown,” he said.
“The subsidy for weavers was stopped around a decade ago. The government has turned its back on us. Our future is tense. I think that even my handloom business will run for the next two years only. After that, I will also be forced to move to some other work but the problem is that I don’t know anything except this. So the government should think about us. On handloom day (today), we are invited to Pragati Maidan where weavers from all over the country will come and the Prime Minister will also be present. So we will try to express our problem there, but it is tough to reach out to him,” he said.
“Among the 200 firms earlier, only mine is valid in the government data today. People have been shifted to other work. New karigar is not coming because there is no earning. They barely earn Rs 250 daily in this work so they said that they prefer other labour work where they earn Rs 500 per day,” he said.
To revive this industry, Gulab said, “The government. should restart the subsidy to weavers or start a pension such as ‘Kisan Samman Nidhi’ to farmers. Also, the government should support and promote handloom and create an environment for weavers like the shops managed in airports and metro.”
On Sunday, PM Modi had tweeted, “At 12 noon tomorrow, 7th August, I will join the National Handloom Day celebrations at the Bharat Mandapam in Delhi. This is an occasion to reiterate our commitment towards popularising local textiles and handlooms in the spirit of being ‘Vocal For Local. SIC”
Patriot reached out to Director of ‘Weavers Service Centre’ Vishesh Nautiyal, who declined to speak citing his involvement in the National Handloom Day celebrations at the Bharat Mandapam on Monday.
The theme designated for this year’s National Handloom Day is “Handlooms for Sustainable Fashion”. The primary goal of celebrating is to promote and support the handloom sector and to recognise the community of weavers. But the effectiveness of such initiatives remains under question given the condition of weavers on the ground.