Weaving in the Northeast: A Traditional Occupation

NEW Bureau

Weaving is a traditional occupation for a broad range of social groups in Northeast States like Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Each tribe of northeast states excels in the craft of weaving and their excellence gets a charming, exquisite expression through the many woven products produced by the members of a tribe. The Northeast States has tremendous potential in promoting handloom sector as a trademark of the ethnicity because the region has been widely praised for their indigenous variety and interesting use of color play and motifs.

The kind of looms used in Northeast States are  fly shuttle looms,  throw shuttle looms and especially in the hilly regions, is the ‘loin loom’ which is quite different from the other loom types used in the other parts of India. There is no pedal for the shedding motion, and every weaving motion is done by hand. Although the loin-loom is a simple device, the products woven on it vary in texture, color and design and the weavers use mostly cotton and acrylic yarn. The handloom fabric produced ranges from shawls, sarees, mekhalas, chaddars, gamochas, lungis, dhotis, gent’s jackets, ladies wear, bed sheets, bed covers, furnishings, carpets and shoulder bags etc.

Besides, the handloom sector has long been a traditional occupation for women and it is an accepted activity for women. The women weavers perform multiple roles of being handloom producers and trading of handloom products because among many tribes of the northeast, there’s a common belief that weaving could make a man lose his vitality if practiced. Hence there is no social stigma of a woman working as a weaver because culture demands that women know this occupation.

Handloom industry plays a dominant role in the cultural and economic development of the rural masses in majority of the North Eastern States. Despite fulfilling the basic clothing needs at home, or for ceremonial occasion or as a decorative piece, the hand-woven textile plays a significant role in making social and cultural distinctiveness, rituals and surroundings. The region contributes half of the total workforce in handloom sector, because almost all tribes and communities in the hills and the plains of the region are actively engaged in this activity. This region has the highest concentration and a rich heritage of handlooms in the country.

Handloom is a labour intensive industry. But the handloom sector in the region is dominated by domestic production and a large portion of domestic workers work as independent weavers and mostly on a part time basis. They purchase raw materials, make clothes and sell the finished products in the market. Their earnings depend upon market condition, productivity and skill and therefore, there is low productivity.

Despite the fact that handloom sector in the northeast region reveals scope for the promotion of handlooms, the impediment in the region lies in the form of its marketability. There is lack of availability of information regarding the marketing of handloom products. The traders continue to be main source of information on product specifications in terms of colour, design, patterns, trends and other market related information. Due to marketing problems, weavers sometimes prefer to work under merchant weaver despite getting low wages. Generally, the promotion is only through exhibitions and fairs with limited outlets for a limited periods, mainly only during festival seasons. Hence the customer purchases such handloom products, only when available and switch to the other competing products when handloom products are out of sight. Therefore handloom sector needs a focused strategy of continuous promotion and regular advertising campaign.

 As the market is globalised, the region also imports clothes and other textiles at cheap rate from neighbouring states and countries like Myanmar and Bangladesh. Thus, traditional weavers are lagging behind in relation to cost, durability and design in their products. Hence weavers need to upgrade their skill and technology levels to face the changing market structure. Different state governments have established State Handloom Development Corporations to provide marketing support to the individual weavers. Despite this, the marketing support is provided by the private traders or master weavers that indicate decline. The handloom cloth is often not able to compete because of lack of quality consistency in terms of finishing, colour and dye.  To improve the condition of handloom sector and to bring change in the lives of weavers, the Government should provide adequate quantities of quality yarn, dyes, chemicals and proper training to them. The Government should also provide credit with low interest rates. A procedure is needed for checking the quality standards of the products like durability, shrinking, fastness of dye and colours etc., so that the customer is assured about this.

Proper involvement in terms of market access and organisation of weavers, the sector can be a source of livelihood for weavers who are either educated or uneducated. But there must be a strong logistic backed by the professional marketing structure. After all, whatever the goods the weavers of the north-east produce must be sold in the market to earn revenues. This, in turn, can boost the trade as a whole and can contribute to the growth of the state as a whole by creating job opportunities.

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