With the federal government scrapping the Handloom and Handicrafts Boards forward of National Handloom Day can we anticipate a brand new and dynamic platform for craftspeople?
The notification, going viral on social media and WhatsApp, evoked each emotion and questions. It was an indication of how a lot the Indian public, even jean-clad millennials, nonetheless take care of handlooms and handicrafts and the individuals who craft them. For the cultural heritage that shapes us as Indians. Among handloom weavers themselves, there have been protests and demonstrations, displaying the significance they gave that official discussion board for his or her voices.
It’s true that each one these years on, the Boards had change into more and more moribund, toothless and politicised. Successive governments appointed members as a reward to loyal constituents. The Boards hardly met.
Nevertheless, AIHB and its twin, the Handloom Board, had more than historic worth. They remained the one official discussion board, nonetheless watered down, the place the voices and views of weavers and craftspeople could possibly be shared immediately with Government. One place the place they had been current in appreciable numbers, really mandated to advise bureaucrats on coverage and sectorial spending.
The given rationale for “abolishing” the AIHB (the wording is stark; it doesn’t say “re-constituting” or “dissolving”) is that the transfer is “in consonance with the Government’s vision of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance” and “a leaner Government machinery”. Somehow, this isn’t reassuring.
AIHB and its twin, the Handloom Board, remained the one official discussion board, nonetheless watered down, the place the voices and views of weavers and craftspeople could possibly be shared immediately with Government
Such areas the place individuals themselves can work together immediately with Government, or be a part of their very own governance, are more and more fewer and fewer. Rather than abolish them, we have to revitalise and revamp such establishments; looking for inspiration from their authentic aims.
Setting up the AIHB, it was supposed that these members (it presently has a energy of over a 100) who weren’t serving officers had been makers and practitioners, who may communicate with authority and a data of floor realities. The Cottage Industries Emporia, the HHEC, our SONA outlets overseas, the Design Centres and Weavers Service Centres, the magnificent Vishwakarma exhibitions, the National Award for grasp craftspersons, had been all initiatives that emerged from these early discussions. That pool of collective knowledge is far wanted now, at a time when craftspeople and the sector are struggling for survival and imaginative options, whereas the gulf between the Government and the individuals it serves appears to be widening.
Beyond digital campaigns
Ever an optimist, I postponed an excessive amount of dismay relating to the AIHB notification, anticipating an announcement on Handloom Day (August 7) of some new handloom coverage, establishment, or think-tank to switch the AIHBs. Sadly, that hasn’t occurred. What we acquired was the Textile Minister tweeting that “handloom can enrich our daily lives and surroundings in many ways; from clothing to furnishing to Masks in Covid times to wall hanging.” That we should always “bring home handmade in India!”.
Three days earlier than Handloom Day, trade leaders, Bollywood stars, designers, media, and different influencers, had been despatched letters urging them to assist a digital marketing campaign by sharing footage of themselves carrying handloom, utilizing the official Ministry of Textiles hashtag.
Handloom Day nonetheless, is not only about carrying fairly saris and posting selfies on social media. It needs to actively promote the skilled expertise of the individuals who make them, and be certain that they obtain recognition. Part of that is giving them a voice and presence. Acknowledging that India’s expert handloom weavers deserve the identical respect and assist that different skilled sectors obtain. A Textiles Ministry quiz on ‘know your handlooms’ and promised on-line alternatives should not an equal.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister additionally saluted handloom, saying it was “a symbol of India’s glorious cultural heritage and an important source of livelihood in the country”. He too inspired individuals to make use of handmade merchandise and unfold consciousness, including that they may assist India be a self-reliant nation. “Let us all be #Vocal4Handmade and strengthen efforts towards an Aatmanirbhar Bharat,” he tweeted. The onus is on us.
However pragmatic a gesture, telling a sector in acute misery to be “aatmanirbhar”, whereas concurrently abolishing their solely discussion board to articulate issues and recommend options, is definitely sending a unfavorable message. Coming at a time when gross sales and livelihoods are at an finish, a celebration of Handloom Day known as for one thing totally different.
What weavers want as we speak will not be rhetoric or pats on the again, however sensible help to work via these laborious instances. A re-constituted and energetic All India Handlooms & Handicrafts Board, with sensible grassroots expertise, youth and vitality, consultant of the varied hand expertise which are India’s richest useful resource, could possibly be the primary reassuring step ahead.
Laila Tyabji is chairperson of Dastkar, an NGO that works to assist conventional Indian craftspeople