While Indian handlooms are being celebrated the world over, back home in Andhra Pradesh, weaver suicides continue due to abject poverty and lack of avenues to better their living conditions.

Clad in nine yards of stunning Indian handloom, Vidya Balan has branded herself as the quintessential Indian beauty today. The Sabyasachi saris that transformed her from a fashion disaster to an elegant diva, sell like hot cakes. Hyderabadi designer Gaurang Shah’s handwoven saris that are adorned by the likes of Tina Ambani and Kirron Kher are priced at anything above a neat `1,00,000. Such is the demand of Indian weaves and handloom, that our designers take great pride in showcasing them at Paris, Milan or New York. And each piece of cloth has a story to tell. But dig deep into the tale of Andhra Pradesh’s looms and you’ll find nothing short of a tear-jerker. And Puttapaka weaver Shravan Kumar’s is one such sad story.

Just weeks before his master-weaver uncle Gajam Anjaiah was to be conferred with the Padma Shri for his contribution to arts, the 36-year-old handloom weaver, Shravan Kumar, committed suicide by hanging himself. It was mounting debts that drove him to take such an extreme step.

On one hand, we have the Indian fashion industry celebrating the beauty of the Indian handloom on its ramps, both nationally and internationally, and on the other hand, a staggering number of weavers are ending their lives due to poverty and debts. Despite Indian handloom being at the centre-stage of world fashion, the people responsible for weaving these gorgeous fabrics see no monetary benefit coming their way. Something is clearly a miss.

Living hand to mouth..

Shravan’s story is not an isolated one. Even basic sustenance is a challenge for most weavers in Andhra Pradesh, which is home to around 3,50,000 looms. “each loom is worked on by one family, and their collective income is not enough to take care of even their basic needs,” says master weaver Gajam Anjaiah. “In my village of Puttapaka, there are around 400 families who are into weaving. The average income of a four-member family is between `2,000 to `5,000, per month. At times, it’s lesser than `1,500. With rising prices and increased cost of living, weavers have no option but to borrow money. when debts accumulate, suicide is the only way out for so many of them,” rues Anjaiah. As an after-thought, he adds, “the number of suicides in the past few years has come down though… Earlier, around five to six weavers would commit suicide every year, but now the number has gone down to two or three. And that’s mainly because there aren’t many weavers left. abject poverty has forced many to abandon their craft and look for other jobs in the city.”

Struggle for survival..

Inconsistent incomes and unending poverty might be one of the reasons many desert their skill, but the dwindling prospect of finding brides too has a large role to play. “Today, no one wants to marry their daughters off to men from our village. Understandable, considering another addition to the family would mean another mouth to feed when there is already a scarcity of food. So, in a bid to earn enough to be able to raise a family, young men are moving to cities like Hyderabad and taking up jobs as watchmen or security guards at corporate offices and housing societies,” says Anjaiah. With younger people leaving trade, master weavers rue that the craft is at a risk of dying out soon. “There is no proper water supply, electricity or educational facilities for families in our villages. So, who would want to live here? They are forced to ditch their craft and move elsewhere,” he adds, dejectedly.

Gross disparity..

This gripping poverty that forces weavers to run away from their villages, give up their craft or drive some of them to take their own lives can leave you baffled sometimes. And that’s because the paltry sum that a weaver earns at the end of a month’s hard work is totally contradictory to what the end product finally fetches a designer, after a label is attached to it and the piece is showcased by top models on the ramp. This disparity in earning is something that the fashion fraternity is aware of, and secretly ashamed of even. designer Shashikant Naidu whose design philosophy revolves around Andhra weaves, is one such designer who admits that the situation is dismal and longs do something about it. “Let’s be honest. as designers we hardly do much for weavers. Designers go to a weaver, pick up fabric worth `350, attach their label and retail it for `35,000. They’ve earned far more than what they paid for. This is something that we seriously need to think about,” he says.

Reference : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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