What is going on with the Handloom Reservation Act?

Spinning wheel

It is no secret that Mills have long hated the Handloom(Reservation of Articles for Production) Act of 1985. The act basically lists traditional textile items as reserved to be produced on handlooms alone (handlooms are defined as anything not a power loom). It appears that now the mills will succeed in getting rid of this Act, unless citizens intervene. The mandatory pro-lobby opinion forming article in MSM has quietly appeared, but there is little noise over it. Notice how it is a piece that argues against the Act out of the blue – absolutely nothing in the news to provoke a reassessment of the Act. Usually an indicator that there is something in the background that is coming up that the piece is preparing the readers for (or rather, setting up opinion).

The argument basically says that since the power looms are already violating the Handloom Reservation Act, it should be scrapped. It is an interesting argument that can probably be applied to the entire IPC.

Here’s what’s going on.

Quote from an email appeal for help by Marchalla Mohan Rao, President of the Handloom Weavers’ Association of undivided Andhra Pradesh.

The Government of India is going to remove Hand Loom Reservation Act, which is giving some extent protection to the hand loom sector till now. Textile Department already Constitute a committee on this issue to analysis the implementation of reservation act and  possibilities of removable items of varieties of hand looms or to totally remove this act by putting in the Parliament for amendment. Committee meeting held  on 20th March,2015 in this regard in D C H Office Delhi, nobody telling about this issue, what is going on reservation act, they are maintaning the secrecy in the department.

In this context, we are all seeking  for your suggestions, how we can overcome from  this problem to protect the hand looms in india. In which way we can brought this issue before the government as well as civil society for their involvement for hand loom weavers movement.

So, please send your opinions and suggestions to over come from this problem and to protect the lakhs of hand loom weavers lively hood.

You can read more about the realities of weavers in Andhra.

Shyamsundari of Dastkar Andhra is more direct.

We had a two day deliberation in Delhi in the month of March regarding the importance of the Reservation Act in securing the interests of the handloom sector. I spoke to the Enforcement chief personally and to the two deputy directors. They agreed to come but failed to show up. The Secretary was given a direct invitation by one of the members of the Federation of Handloom organisations. Same was the case with the DCH. But there was no representation from the Handloom Department. And within a couple of weeks we hear from the enforcement officials(unofficially) that a move is on to repeal the Act. There seems to be a strong powerloom lobby behind the move and the Secretary Textiles seems to be playing an active role in the whole thing.

Livelihoods of weavers are already an issue. Third National Census of Handloom Units and Allied Activity Workers (2010) for Development Commissioner (Handlooms), ministry of textiles by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (India’s oldest and independent think tank) tells us something about who these weavers are.

  • 87% of total household units (27.83 lakh) are located in rural areas.
  • Nearly 47% of handloom worker households are BPL and rest are non-BPL.
  • 29 lakh weavers constitute 76% of the adult workforce.
  • 9.38 lakh allied workers are 24% of the adult workforce.
  • Almost 67% weavers are engaged full time in weaving.
  • Almost 75% of handloom workers are women.
  • 60% of adult handloom workers have little or no schooling.

We are talking of some of the most vulnerable rural populations here. People who have no alternative employment. Three-fourth of them being women means that their loss of occupation and income is going to have a direct adverse influence on their children as well – a large part of income of women goes directly to the well being of their children. Lack of schooling means that the potential for already scarce jobs gets even lower. The one skill they do have will be rendered obsolete by mechanical alternatives that produce cheaper but employ far fewer people in a country where power is scarce and labour abundant.

The government’s sabotage of rural employment schemes is only going to make this difficult. For a reference, textile mill workers rendered obsolete in 1993, are getting Rs 3000/- per month under Textiles Workers Rehabilitation Fund. They are not able to survive on these funds. Alternative employment for them itself is a problem without adding handloom workers to the mix. 15 lakh handloom households (53%) undertake handloom work exclusively for commercial purposes, while 4.38 lakh households (16%) produce for both domestic as well as commercial purposes.

Woman weaver at handloom from Walahjapet, Tamil Nadu
Woman weaver at her loom from Walahjapet, Tamil Nadu. Photo: Sweta Daga Source: ruralindiaonline.org


It is true that Mills already illegally produce and sell items reserved to be produced on handlooms. However, the law does protect the handloom workers, as action can be taken against the illegally produced goods. Also the illegally produced goods cannot undercut the prices of handloom produced goods. Without this protection, the market will be flooded with cheap textiles that the creators of handloom products cannot compete with. Yet, the soul of the traditional items will be altered forever.

“At present Crores of people are waiting for their jobs, every year more than 60,00,000 graduates/ post graduates/ technologists are coming out from the universities/ institutions. Why the government is not providing the employment to these youth, if there is any possibility.” Marchala demands to know. “Another one important issue is if we alow the powerlooms in India; China, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Pakistan,Jermany,Korea, Thailand exporters are ready to dump their prodcuts in the Indian domestic market. It has not happened yet, because varieties are reserved for handlooms exclusively.”

“Mechanization never creates employment, Our India has plenty of human resources. They should be employed by production activity. It is handlooms in rural India. No other industry except the service sector. Service sector also cannot provide employment regularly.” It has been noted before by Ravinder Kumar that India had not added jobs in agriculture or manufacturing since 1995. Where is the rural person to seek employment?

“If we allow the powerlooms to produce the Silk/cotton Sarees and dress Materials, it will ruin the total handloom sector without any doubt. It will to the starvation among the weaving community and some parts of India it will lead to armed struggles, for example Jammu and Kashmir (where the official records require the government to adopt the Handloom Reservation Act or enact something similar, yet has not, resulting in the famed Pashmina being woven on power looms, damaging the livelihoods as well as traditional craft). Over 60% of India’s weaver households reside in the North East and earn about Rs 300 per day. What happens of them and what will the impact of their disenfranchisement be on the regional unrest?”

Is this the future of our traditional arts at the hands of the government that appears to have interest in promoting both handlooms and traditions? Are we going to have exquisite silk saris produced by powerlooms that copy traditional designs and starve traditional weavers? What does a Ludhiana Power Looms pashmina shawl even mean?

Handloom sari at Walahjapet, Tamil Nadu
Handloom sari at Walahjapet, Tamil Nadu. Photo: Sweta Daga Source: ruralindiaonline.org

“On 29,80,000 hand looms more than 65,00,000 families of 1,20,00,000 people are depending for their livelihood. All these people will be abandoned by the state if powerlooms replace these creators of exquisite crafts like so much horse power labour mass producing identical designs.

The secrecy around the proceedings is ominous. This government has shown little inclination for accountability. It now depends on us to ask questions that require answers.

[tweetthis]Handlom fabric enthusiasts, please read this![/tweetthis]

Update: The Odisha government has opposed the bid of powerloom operators to get saris removed from the Handloom(Reservation of Articles for Production) Act of 1985.

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25 thoughts on “What is going on with the Handloom Reservation Act?”

  1. In india we have lost everything that is good and beautiful ,pl at least lets preserve hand looms the soul of India,No law enactment.

  2. The entire world looks to us for the beautiful art that our weavers spin….Mahatma Ghandi sitting on the chakra is a symbol people all over identify with. What is happening to our Nation that anything and everything of essence and meaning, arts , hand loom, forests, wildlife, all come under the axe to pave the way for “progress” in the form of mass produced synthetic fabric, concrete jungles, promoting builders lobbys etc.
    PLEASE take heed ….

  3. The entire world looks to us for the beautiful art that our weavers spin….Mahatma Ghandi sitting on the chakra is a symbol people all over identify with. What is happening to our Nation that anything and everything of essence and meaning, arts , hand loom, forests, wildlife, all come under the axe to pave the way for “progress” in the form of mass produced synthetic fabric, concrete jungles, promoting builders lobbys etc.
    PLEASE take heed ….

  4. The beauty of hand loom is unique and it’s our identity. So please please preserve it. It will affect the livelihood of many and we will loose connections with our own heritage. Save it

  5. Susan Bultitude

    I am visiting India in November and hope to buy hand loomed clothes to wear in New Zealand and show off their beauty. All traditional artisans must be honoured and protected. India must not bow down to the pressures of the West to have cheap nasty textiles overwhelm her heritage of handcrafted, beautiful clothes and art works!

  6. Sadly the power loom drive is applying the same logic of the ineffectiveness of the law to protect itself from abuse as do most industries in India, and not only there, worldwide, to widen their market against the interests of the very people the legislation was meant to protect. Business is not in the business of preserving the ancient heritage of indigenous skill, art and craft, that is and should be the preserve of the Government, but a pro-business government that is purely money and effect driven is no respecter of the traditional environment. Instead of repealing the Act the Government of India should acknowledge the uniqueness oof the Handloom heritage and give the Act some teeth so that the Powerloom proponents are deterred from breaking the law.

  7. Handloom is so unique to India. A traditional craft that needs to be preserved and the skills of the artisans passed on to the generations to come. If the handloom industry dies we will lose something very valuable and life will be so very colourless!

  8. I have been working in the Handloom and handicraft sector for the past 24 years and I would never like the Handloom to go away…nothing powerloom can match upto the soul of a Handloom product!

  9. This is native of India and we identify with it. These are some of the traits that make us proud as Indians and unique to India. If this is gone what value is there for machine which can be replicated anywhere in the world! Please respect this fact and the devoted artisans of this art and support them in their livelihood. May be you can give it some boost with bringing in some modern design changes which is acceptable to the younger generation as well but don’t kill it.

  10. Genevieve Rosario

    To whom it may concern:
    Please do not take away the livelihood of millions of women who love and take pride in their work. Support handmade! Support Artisans!

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