Long silence of looms leaves Karnataka weavers in the lurch

“Nine out of ten weavers are suffering due to the lockdown.”

Dhavalesh Banakar has barely had any employment for over a year now. The greater tragedy has been that he has lost two of his family members to COVID-19.

“I used to work for a power loom owner. He closed the unit after the first lockdown in April last year. In September, the unit was opened, only to close down after a few weeks. Since then I have been doing odd jobs like selling vegetables,” he said. He felt helpless when his sister and brother in-law were admitted to a private hospital, as he could not get beds in the government hospital. The 10-day treatment was not successful and they died within a gap of two days. He had to take a hand loan to settle the bills.

Those who have their own looms are not much better off. Ravi Malleshappa belongs to a family of traditional weavers and had two handlooms at home. But he had to close them down after suffering losses in 2019. He started going to work as a daily wage labourer last year in loom, which is also shut now. He is now working as a security guard in a residential apartment in Belagavi.

Nine of 10 hit

Such stories are endless in the weavers’ communities. “Around 70% of the community members are daily wage labourers. Only around 20% have their own hand looms or power looms and the rest of around 10% are employed in the organised sector like big mills. Nine out of ten weavers are suffering due to the lockdown,” said Mohammad Mulla, a leader of weaver labourers. These sentiments are echoed by Gurulingappa Gombi, who has been running a weavers’ cooperative in Bagalkot.

Gajanan Gunjeri, a leader of the weaver community and a BJP member, hopes that Government would soon offer help. “Siddu Savadi, chairman of Karnataka Handloom development corporation, and other MLAs have met the Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa, seeking a special package,” he said.

However, others are sceptical. “The government will find it easy to announce relief plans, but difficult to implement them,” said Ashok Chandaragi, social activist whose family members are engaged in weaving. The sector is highly disorganized and the government lacks even proper data about the numbers and conditions of weavers, he argued.

Multiple communities

He pointed out that several communities are involved in various aspects of weaving, raing from cleaning cotton to ginning, threading, weaving and colouring. “They include Nekar, Pattasali, Padmasali, Kuruvinashetty, Togatveer, Banakar, Rangrez, Devang, or Swakulsali and other communities and sub castes,” he said, adding that a larger number of traditionally non-weaving communities such as Lingayat, Muslim, Gauli, Hatgar, Kuruba, Koli-Kabbaliga, Jadar and Medar are also involved.

“In the past, leaders of various communities have created obstacles in the fair distribution of relief,” said Mr. Chandaragi. “What is more, most weavers are poor and illiterate and don’t have smart phones or bank accounts. A direct cash transfer will not be easy.”

After floods

Weavers of north Karnataka have been suffering losses since 2019, says Parashuram Dhage, convenor of the North Karnataka Weavers Development Committee. “We were hit by the floods in 2019, and the successive lockdowns in 2020 and 2021,” Mr Dhage said.

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