It’s the last day of Durga Puja and a few weeks away till Diwali. This is the time of the year when most Indians go on sari-shopping sprees. The handloom-woven — taant (loom) — sari is the Indian woman’s primary choice for festival wear, its variety ranging from the Shantipuri, Dhaniakhali, Tangail, Dhakai, Tasar, Jamdani, Garad, to the Matka and Gheecha.
And yet, how relevant is this sixyard-long piece of handloom weave to the modern Indian woman? Expenses on saris during the festival season (September-October) range fromRs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 out of which about 30% is confined to taant saris. Yet, wearability — the notion of the fabric having a distended feel to it making many wearers think they look plumper — is a major deterrent. So how do sari shop-owners react to the preference of their patrons to silks, georgettes and chiffons?
Taant saris form a niche segment.
But this high-end segment lacks enough demand. There has been an average increase of 15-20% in prices from last year that is attributed to rising costs of thread, increased wages and transportation costs. Most retailers have in-house designer teams that devise exclusive computer-generated designs. These designs are then provided to the taantis (weavers) for transferring on to the saris.
The peak season starts five months before the festival season when retailers have to rake in their resources to handle the extra delivery commitments.
Despite this sharp rise in demand, there can be no hiring of extra or contractual labour. The existing labour force simply logs in extra hours for which they are paid bonuses.
So what is the future of the taant sari industry? Is it possible for the sector to generate sufficient employment opportunities? And, more importantly, can technology play the role of an enabler in harnessing the growth potential of this sector?
Competition from power-looms is a major factor hampering the tant industry.
A power-loom Banarasi sari costs only Rs 1,600 while a similar sari produced by handloom can cost at least Rs 4,000. So Banarasi and South Indian weaves on the power-loom reduce manufacturing costs and provide finer yet cheaper weaves.
Take the ‘home state’ of the taant sari, West Bengal. In 1982, there were 8,052 power-looms in the small-scale sector with the number of workers at 24,000. By 2009, their number decreased to 4,636 and the number of workers to 11,363. There is no plan to arrest this slide by developing West Bengal as a hub for power-looms.
The handloom brands of the state government have their own story to tell. The Tantuja brand, an undertaking of the West Bengal government, was on the brink of a shutdown owing to losses of Rs 14.6 crore until it was drastically revived. It actually made a profit of Rs 19.17 lakh in 2013.
The ‘Tantushree’ brand of the West Bengal Handloom and Powerloom Development Corporation has, however, been shut down after being declared a sick unit.
In this context, steps taken by the Government of India last year to mitigate the issue include developing 12 centres as mega-clusters on a PPP model to scale up infrastructure and production in the handloom (four mega-clusters), handicraft (five) and powerloom (three) sectors. Government contribution has been earmarked at a maximum of Rs 70 crore for each mega-cluster. Murshidabad in West Bengal, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Sivsagar in Assam, Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu are the four mega-clusters for handlooms. The power-loom mega-clusters are in Bhiwandi in Maharastra, Erode in Tamil Nadu and Bhilwara in Rajasthan.
The government has also proposed the implementation of the Handloom (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, for the protection of handloom and power-loom products.
Central assistance is provided to West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala to ensure there is no violation of the Act. Stalls are to be inspected at various national- and statelevel expos to ensure that genuine handlooms products are sold in these handloom exhibitions.
The festivals will be that much brighter and happier if the taant sari industry is unfolded and made to flow again. Wishing you a Shubho Bijoya and Dussehra and a wonderful Diwali in advance.