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Woven textiles are one of the oldest techniques developed by people the world over. Earlier,
the woven cloth protected the body from the heat and cold, and later developed into a form of
dress, which expressed the cultural values of the people and their identity. The art of weaving
and dyeing of fabrics was practiced in India from very ancient times. It was such an important
part of the life of the ancient times that many of its techniques gave the name to philosophical
and religious thought.

The superiority and popularity of the cloth produced for centuries in India is a well known
fact that needs no reiteration. The production of cloth for local consumption, which was the
mode long prevalent in rural India, underwent some change with the opening up of sea trade
routes and the consequent expansion of export trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. Certain changes in the organization of production ensued, the most noteworthy
being the emergence of an intermediary class of trade financiers mediating between the
producer and the market.

The handloom sector occupies a distinct and unique place in the Indian economy, besides
being the largest generator of non-farm rural employment. The handloom sector is indeed
capable of exponential growth, with proper identification of its needs, a reasonable level of
resource input and structural attention.

The handloom industry is largely household-based, carried out with labour contributed by the
entire family. It is dispersed, spread across thousands of villages and towns in the country.
The industry also exhibits considerable diversity in terms of products, organizational base, as
well as in relations between actors within the production structure.

India’s passage into modernity/ industrialization has centred, to a significant extent, on the
cotton textile industry. Tracing the importance of the textile sector in the Indian economy also
brings us face to face with the different components – such as the mill segment, the handloom
segment and the powerloom segment – that make up this whole.

These segments differ in terms of volume of output, technology, the organization of
production and so on and are often placed in competing positions with one another,
competing for raw materials, markets, etc. These differences render futile any attempt to
generalize about the textile sector as a whole. Indeed, successive textile policies of the
government have been an exercise in striking a balance between these segments.

Till about the first decade of the twentieth century, handloom still retained an edge in the
domestic market. But this soon suffered due to the growth and consolidation of the mill
sector. Not only did the handloom sector become dependent on yarn produced by mills, but
also faced increasing competition from cloth production by mills, which began in the period
of the First World War. A competitive relation between the two sectors emerged.

It was realized around this time that the livelihoods of handloom weavers would be adversely affected by the indiscriminate expansion of mills. the price of yarn had increased from 600 to 700 %. while excise duty was levied on mill cloth. others hired labour to work on the looms. we also find a significant number of handloom weavers faced with dwindling demand switching over to work in power looms. Karimnagar in A.The problems being faced by the handloom industry came to be first emphasized in 1928 by the Royal Commission on Agriculture. 1960:7-8). . According to one estimate. 35% of export earnings and employs around 38 million persons. “which expressed the view that the development of this village industry on co-operative lines was essential to the survival of weavers in the face of increased competition from organized industry. 20% of industrial production. Taken together. Apart from other issues. the unorganized decentralized sector consisting of handlooms. A combination of factors contributed to the consolidation of this sector. Consequently. Burhanpur in M. Belgaum in Karnataka. plays a crucial role in the Indian economy today. “compared to pre-War levels. Ichalkaranji in Maharashtra. This could be attributed to the nationalist movement and the demand for swadeshi cottons as well as an increase in demand for cloth during the Second World War. Certain concessions came to be given to the handloom industry. The textile industry. though the functioning of spinning mills was not interfered with. According to a Report by the Ministry of Labour: “The growth of power loom was so rapid that yesterday’s traditional handloom weaving centres also grew to be centres of power loom industry. but because of their size. khadi and powerlooms. 1986-87:1). handlooms continued to grow. with the consequent closing down of many looms” (ILO.P..” (GOI. Some of these were owner-operated. such as the competition it offered to handloom products. The reasons for this were perhaps not internal to the handloom industry. which consisted largely of hundreds of small units set up by enterprising individuals.. yarn prices rose phenomenally due to war conditions (especially during the II World War) pushing raw materials out of the reach of weavers. The power loom sector thus emerged as an intermediary between the pre-existing handloom and mill segments of the textile industry. The traditional handloom centres like Malegaon. which encompasses the organized mill sector. while the price of handloom products had risen only by 200 to 250%. it contributes to 8% of GDP. each with not more than 5-10 power looms (usually those discarded by the composite mills). were exempt from labour laws. but could have had to do with the emergence of a power loom sector from the 1920s onwards. However. Between 1920s and 1930s. 1988:3). Erode and Salem in Tamilnadu…became power loom centres as well” (GOI. they got all the benefits of a cottage industry initially.P. In this way. the growth of the mill sector was regulated.

The needs of the handloom sector as an industry have to be addressed keeping in mind the diversities obtaining at the ground level and the problems faced by primary producers. marketing. A number of policy recommendations are based on aggregate data. been going through periodic crises. which (a) document regional specificities and trends in weaving with reference to product. unquestionably. that would be to misperceive the basic fact that the nature and intensity of the crises has been changing. and (b) examine particular reasons for the expansion or contraction of weaving. the objectives of the study are two-fold. Though there have been attempts to address some of the problems (such as credit. This discrepancy has led to low rates of success in the interventionist measures. production patterns and types of product in each region. as the case may be. (ii) to suggest possible strategies for intervention based on field experience. which do not reflect the radical diversity in forms of organization. most of the solutions have been overwhelmingly centralized in nature. as well as the compiling of data from official and non-official published sources. The focus in this study is on the generation of detailed empirical data on weaving centres and on a range of socio-economic aspects of weavers’ lives. However. and that this has been the case for nearly a century now. and the situation has been particularly acute in the last couple of decades. While the former has comprised of field visits to various weaving centres. and thereby to identify areas of potential growth. etc) faced by this sector.P. The study has drawn on both primary and secondary data. thereby arguing that perceptions of the handloom industry have to be rebuilt on contemporary terms.. This study will contend that a number of dominant perceptions that orient one’s opinion of the handloom industry are based on certain ‘myths’ that have no basis in ground realities. This has resulted in the erosion of rural livelihoods in weaving.Objectives and methodology: Against this background. is not new. the latter has included archival research. rather than developed in a top-down fashion. organization of production and markets. it could be argued. (i) to offer a realistic appraisal of the handloom industry particularly in A. This sense of crisis. We will draw on a few such myths and present evidence to the contrary. Such an appraisal is based primarily on field reports. The handloom industry has. . and also a displacement of labour. which will provide the basis for support initiatives for the industry.

00. A weaver’s earnings depend on a number of other variables such as whether he weaves independently. but is indispensable in order to identify the varied needs and problems of weavers and can provide the basis for formulating appropriate policy measures. The assumption here is that producers of high value cloth will also receive high remunerations. we find other unique features obtaining in the field. A small sample survey was also conducted in the area and information from the schedules are provided wherever relevant. either directly or indirectly. the new textile policy recommends that they be categorized on the basis of the quality of weaving (into producers of higher value. both the loom and the fabric are known by the name of the place. Some of the famous handlooms of Andhra Pradesh are as follows: Organizational structure Understanding the way in which handloom weaving is organized is not just a matter of academic curiosity. These different organizational contexts also influence the flexibility with which weavers respond to changes in demand. Usually the master weaver does not engage in weaving. Departing from the conventional modes of classifying weavers in terms of productive modes. or for a co-operative. unlike producers of lower-value cloth. or a shift away from handloom weaving altogether. buying yarn. Narayanpet and Dharmavaram are well knownfor their silk and cotton sarees all over India. Each loom is recognized with its distinct weaving style and variety of fabric.000 families indirectly are dependent on them. The rationale for such an assumption is questionable. Gadwal.20. handloom weavers have been divided on the basis of how production is carried out. which suggest that a more complex system is actually in practice. or as coming under the co-operative fold. for a master weaver. About 5. where there are no watertight compartments. having delicate and distinctive designs. the ‘high value’ of the cloth is rarely translated into wage terms. since field visits reveal that producers of ‘luxury’ fabrics are not necessarily well-paid. The looms of Chirala.AN OVERVIEW OF HANDLOOMS TEXTILES IN ANDHRA PRADESH Renowned for its handlooms.000 families directly and 20. Usually. Using this broad classification as a point of entry. Venkatagiri. As a matter of convention. There are about 3.00. Based on this assumption. Andhra Pradesh is an ancient institution of hand woven fabrics. weavers are categorized either as independent (one who works on his own. cotton and silk are the two most preferred fabrics. Each saree boasts of an intricate 'pallu' and delicate border adorned with gold thread work. It produces the most exclusive sarees and dress-materials. but rather combinational modes at work. A field-based survey of types of weavers is invaluable in such contexts.000 handlooms. Pochampalli. Accordingly. An attempt is made below to capture and represent some of these complexities through a case study of Chirala in Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh. or as working under the master weaver. policy recommendations suggest either a shift in the direction of producing finer cloth. In Andhra Pradesh and most other southern states. through agents. . weaving and selling the final product). but controls the production of weavers under him. Extremely complex and variable organizational structures of weaving obtain in the field. medium value and lower-value cloth). that is.

It has a population of 85. This town is the major hub for textile business in the district of Prakasam. Hastinapuram. During the 13th century the Italian traveler Marco Polo visited this area and mentions about the flourishing handloom weaving and exhibition of skills of the weaver in production of finer varieties. have the following towns and villages noted for handloom weaving: Ipurupalem. Ramakrishnapuram. and later became part of then formed Prakasam District. the rural artisan weaver of this area had done marvelous work of producing 7 yards of sari in a match box. reputed to be one of the largest concentrations in the state. Within an 8-10 kilometre belt.460 (agglomeration 166. Even before the Industrial revolution taken place in the west. Because of its wide textile business it is also called Mini-Bombay. Desaipeta. In 1920 a group of weavers have formed a handloom weavers Co-Operative Society. mandal and a municipality located in Prakasam district in the state of Andhra Pradesh. India. The town is situated at a distance of 100 km south of Vijayawada. It used to be a Taluk of Guntur District. Dantampeta. very near to Chirala. The introduction of this exportable variety and its popularity in the weavers of this area had . An important concentration of weaving in Prakasam district lies in the Chirala belt.Chirala: Chirala is a large town. Chirala. HANDLOOM INDUSTRY OF CHIRALA The Chirala area handloom industry is famous since time immemorial for producing variety of fabrics which brought name and fame to the nation as well as to this area. Chinna Bombai. The name has been derived from its ancient age name Ksheera Puri ("Here the sea looks as white as milk"). unmatched skill and talent of handloom weaver of this area. There are also many small town such as Vetapalem surrounding Chirala.000 working looms. Amodagiripatnam. Jandrapeta. Perala.877) (2001 census). Chirala is the major commercial centre between Tenali and Ongole and lies on the main railway line between Chennai and Kolkata. The Indian Air Force has an air-base called Suryalanka near to Bapatla. During 1952 a Co-operative spinning mill has been inaugurated by Sri Javaharlal Nehru and runs for about 50 years. reveals the historic evidence about attaining the peak of excellence in weaving skills. Though this area is famous for its production of traditional varieties zari saris and dhoties which has limited for local market. Spread across these locations are 16. During 1973 the exportable variety known as the "Real Madras hand Kerchiefs" is being manufactured with art silk and zari (metallic thread glittering like gold) on jacquard looms and exported to African countries. There are some nice beaches and a few resorts with all the world class facilities. Ravoorapeta and Pandilapalli. Vetapalem. which speaks of highest excellence in the art of weaving.

Even now there are about 1000 looms working for this variety and about Rs. no additional attachment like dobby or jacquard is required. This variety has run for one and half decade and it comes down. Because of its attractive and glittering design and texture. hand kerchiefs. but the fact that there is continuous work all round the year makes all the difference to weavers and they have often settled permanently here. The lattice dobby is used to produce designs with 48 threads of extra warp design on saris and dress materials. like dhoties. either a natural calamity or a yarn scarcity.6000 to 8000 per month and from last six years the embroidery work is going on and providing some alternate work for those who not interested to continue as weaver. While weavers often . The embroidered / painted saris are sold at local and also within the state of other places. The saris being supplied by local traders for painting and embroidering work. These 20 to 25 thousand weavers are working on about 18000 looms. The barrel dobby is used to produce small design with 24 threads of extra warp design on border or at desired place of the fabrics. In addition there are fifteen yarn traders. Generally in Chirala cluster the type loom used is fly shuttle loom and this may be equipped additionally with barrel dobby. More often than not. 6 designers and card makers using cad system. saris. These are also earning about Rs. And also there is cashew cottage industry which providing work for few hundreds of women during the cashew crop season. There are about sixty thousand handloom weaver population at Chirala and presently twenty to twenty five thousand weavers are active. The Jacquard is used to weave designs with extra warp or extra weft or both depending on the fabric requirement. The annual turn of this cluster is estimated around 100 to 120 crores. weavers from East and West Godavari regions migrate into Chirala. This is because of the reputation for weaving that Chirala region has traditionally had. Whereas the cloth is produced at Bangladesh and China is not like at this area (Chirala). 50 to 70 hand work designers and card makers and 50 to 100 of other ancillary providers. They are Chirala and Vetapalem mandals. For the weaving of plain fabric the fly shuttle loom alone is enough. lattice dobby and jacquard according to the variety of the fabric woven by the weaver. Whenever there is a crisis of some sort. the cloth is attracting the consumers in foreign countries. The quality of the fabric being produced in this area will not give any odd smell to the cloth because of the climate and water used during the process of dyeing. Almost all the weavers belong to the Padmashalia. The "Real Madras Hand Kerchiefs" variety is also being manufactured in the countries like Bangladesh and China. 4000 to 6000 per month. saris. Later they have shifted to lungies. Devanga and Pattusali of the weavers' community. 25 to 30 dyers. dress material etc. 10 crores of stocks are being exported from Chennai. The weavers are located in two mandals and of Prakasam district.not only improved the living conditions of the weaver but also contributing in earning foreign exchange to the nation. There are about some hundreds of weavers who are young and dynamic and have shifted to hand paint and spray paint work on saris from the year 1983 onwards for about fifteen years and earned about Rs. the wages earned are not very different. shirtings and dress material cloth.

spinning mills and of course. Locals underscore this interdependence by saying that if one handloom is active. This technique of tying and dyeing the warp and weft threads . 2000). especially yarn. going on continuously. These have not been confined to an immediately local or rural market alone. a situation that does not obtain in many other places. Telia rumals (used as head-cloths by the labouring classes) were the most famous product of this region in the 19th century. Periodic crises in the availability of raw materials. following government policies regarding cotton export. It is said that in Prakasam region. sizing. the position of master weavers was strengthened during a severe drought during 1957-62. most in their own houses. Historically. there are also supportive activities such as dyeing (there are 15 dye-houses in this area). but there are also several weaving sheds with appalling conditions. the phenomenal increase in yarn prices has been a major blow to handloom weavers.articulate their concerns in terms of wages and the availability of work. are one such factor. 1991. it keeps alive 16 related occupations. How is production organized in this area. ranging from the growing of cotton to the marketing of the final product woven. warping. Both men and women weave The number of looms and the extent of their productivity are indicators to reckon with and reveal a great deal about the scale of handloom weaving in this region. shops selling dyes. The extent to which the local economy in Chirala and its surrounding areas revolve around cloth production is easily apparent. yarn traders. it is clear that the Chirala region continues to exhibit vitality especially as far as handloom weaving is concerned. In more recent times (1988. yarn availability was affected during British rule (during the world wars) and has fluctuated subsequently. big and small. By presenting a field account. It has been observed that: “more than 90% of the weavers work for master weavers. The nature of markets they have had access to is also a significant point to note. Cloth traders. since only they had the resources to access yarn from private traders. This is clear when we consider the changes in the kind of products that are woven here. since communities and/or families who have specialized in this task do a lot of the pre-loom work here. As we look into the possible reasons for this. thousands of looms lend a distinctive air to this town. etc. this report will engage with these and other issues. and how is it changing? What is the nature of the larger economy? How widespread is migration of weavers? What is the kind of product being woven. and where is it being marketed? What are the roles played by different actors in this process? What is the division of labour in weaving itself? What is the quantum of earnings? And so on. In addition. The impact of all this on the organization of weaving in Chirala has to be kept in mind. we find that weavers here have been responding and adapting production to changes in market demand. Changing markets and adaptability of the industry: Despite certain fluctuations in fortunes. it is also necessary to place these perceptions within a larger economic context that dictates the fortunes of weaving to a significant extent. but have been predominantly domestic urban markets as well as specific export ones.

kiles (a term used to refer to the lungis and susis worn by Muslims) were also reportedly produced in Chirala and Vetapalem as well. Africa). The demand for this came from an export market. which was handled by merchants in Madras. Till very recently. exports were to “Singapore. These 45” squares were made in bright colours and were of 40s count. sico. especially in villages in and around Vetapalem and Jandrapeta near Chirala town. Penang. on which extra weft designs were made using jacquard. a majority of the looms in this region wove RMHK for export. East Africa for the Muhammadan emigrants of India” (Ranga. This ability to keep pace with changing market trends could be a major strength of the handloom industry in this region. jacquard was brought to Chirala in 1974. By 1926. some rumal weavers from Chirala migrated to Pochampally in Nalgonda district to take advantage of the vicinity of the Hyderabad market. Some of the products being woven are described in Table 1 below: Table 1: Product description Product Type (counts) Real madras Handkerchiefs (RMKH) 40s jacquard Sarees. dress materials 80s Polycot zari 80s Cotton dress materials 80s x 60s Plain yardage. the trade in kiles had already declined. Aden. In addition to other centres like Kalahasti and Venkatagiri. These rumals are no longer produced in Chirala today. According to an old weaver. Now there has been a drastic drop in production and only 1% are said to be weaving this. four to five years ago. and various blends were tried. 1930:32). and the production of Real Madras Hand Kerchiefs (RMHK) took the place of the earlier products. that is. Currently. In the late 19th century. and exporters are exporting these in the name of handlooms. The Chinese too are said to have begun meeting this export demand. Saigon. production of dress materials and dupattas has taken over. The reasons given for this is that powerlooms from Madras have copied the product.before weaving was introduced here at the beginning of the 19th century. etc. dupattas 60s Shirting 60s x 40s Sarees 60s . These (also called pattimarpu locally) were produced primarily for an export market (Nigeria. like polycot. Production immediately shifted to the weaving of jacquard sarees.

The following aspects may be highlighted in particular. This refers to the ways in which yarn and capital are sourced by the weavers. 2. 4. 6. and are also manifesting themselves at an early age. The organizational structure corresponding to this production has . The extraordinarily long hours of work are taking toll on weavers' health. Weaving process of each of these heavy-work sarees alone takes much longer time. urban market. It appears that while there have been minor changes in the organizational structures. Complexity of the saree has increased from simpler design to ornate design. how their products reach the market. around 2 days. Conclusions: The case study of Chirala region illustrates several of the key problem areas that have not been adequately addressed in general accounts of handloom weaving. weavers have responded by changing their product to jacquard and dress materials. asthma. Though weavers working for the master weaver are in majority here. Many women have had to undergo hysterectomy at the age of 35-40. nerve weakness. Cases of tuberculosis. The access to export markets that Chirala has traditionally had gives it a unique position in AP’s handloom industry. Today. PROBLEMS OF THE WEAVERS Unequal competition with computerized mass production has impacted the handloom industry in Chirala in a number of ways. This understanding is indispensable in order to assess the extent to which weavers are able to adapt their production to changing market demands. with changes in the pattern of export demand. • Market adaptability: This case study has focused on providing a field picture of how weaving is organized in the region. there are variations as well. and so on. eye-strain and body ache have risen steeply among the present generation of weavers. where they weave. 3. no new actors have emerged to replace or reorder the existing system. Reason being forced to work for 12 to 14 hours a day.Closely related to the changes in markets and products is the overall organization of production in the area. It has turned the wage-work equation against the weavers. the primary target being the domestic. Due to rise in inflation and decrease in the value of money weavers have to work day and night along with the entire family to earn their livelihood. Following are the various problems faced by the weavers of Chirala: 1. 5. 7.

• Categorization of weavers: The case study also strongly contests the notion of a homogeneous category of ‘the weaver’ who is the focus of policy efforts. he would have no access to markets. It is clear that weavers’ needs and difficulties are specific to each category.looms nor capital of their own. We find that the large scale migration of weavers. work in these sheds. • Migration of weavers: Like other regions of handloom weaving that have exhibited vitality. with neither dwellings. and would include aspects such as low wages. we must examine what organizational structures of production obtain on the field. This phenomenon of weaver mobility needs further examination. how adequately these are responding to the market and what re-organizations in the production process will ensure a better match between markets and production. however. Complete independence would be practically impossible. bad living and working conditions. Programmes targeting weavers should be region- specific and flexible. Rather than allow markets to dictate production entirely.been one where a large chunk of weavers work under the master weaver. those owning looms as well as buying yarn and weaving independently. All such programme formulations should be preceded by a close examination of field realities and identification of the needs of different segments of the weaving industry. many of which are managed by smaller master weavers or agents of the bigger ones. Any production outside the master weaver/ co-operative bases will encounter these questions (of the market) in a big way. . etc. mini-master- weavers and weaving sheds that attract migrant weavers. the Chirala belt too has had an inflow of weavers from other areas. the emergence of shed weaving and heavy indebtedness among weavers have also contributed to a consolidation of the master-weaver’s position in this area. though there have been a noticeable number of independent weavers too. The requirements of this category of weavers would be different from the other groups. The term ‘independent’ needs to be carefully qualified. The old ‘putting out’ system (working at home for the master weaver) now exists side by side with the ‘karkhana’ mode of shed-weaving. Migrant workers. by about the early 1980s. because even if the ‘independent’ weaver has access to raw materials. A suitable policy for handloom weavers will have to seriously address the above circumstances. It draws detailed attention to various categories of weavers such as those owning looms and working for master weavers at home. Field visits indicate that migratory inflows became noticeable 18-20 years ago. but marketing their products through the master weaver/trader.