India's handmade textiles industry can spin magic yarns for both domestic buyers and connoisseurs across the globe but Government policies are coming in the way of its advancement, rues crafts impresario Jaya Jaitley, President of the Dastkari Haat Samiti who has been associated with the sector for about four decades.
"The potential as well as scope for Indian handmade and handwoven textiles in the domestic and international markets is huge. We can be the world leaders. Unfortunately, Government policies seem to put more and more obstacles in the way of this sector. The focus is mostly on exports, which is not wise at all," she added.
As many as 1,500 craftsmen are associated with the Samiti and have so far conducted over 100 crafts bazaars across the globe, including cities like London, Oxford and Frankfurt and in Ethiopia. Highlighting the problems, the 70-year-old Jaitley said that the proposed National Fibre Policy would pose a major roadblock for the progress of the craftsmen. "The proposed National Fiber Policy to tax cotton on par with polyester is a matter of concern. By reducing the tax on synthetic yarn and placing a tax on cotton in the name of equity, the Government will take cotton yarn out of reach of handloom weavers," she asserted.
According to reports, despite a huge production base of natural fibers like cotton, wool and jute along with manmade fibres, the Indian textile industry is losing its share in the global market. Keeping this in mind, the former Textile Minister Dayanidhi Maran had proposed the National Fibre Policy in 2009. He felt that the scheme would iron out disparities in the taxation structure. Jaitley vehemently disagrees with this.
"The climate of the country cannot sustain the wearing of synthetics for health reasons. Silk yarn prices have doubled. Weavers are committing suicide in Andhra Pradesh and poor weavers in Varanasi are suffering. Political packages are an eyewash. It is sad and frustrating when there is so much we can be proud of in our textiles heritage," she maintained. International icons fancy Indian hand looms and crafts, but Indian fashion enthusiasts do not care for them and Jaitley believes this is because youth is blinded by imitation.
"We have some passionate art and craft lovers, but the majority open their eyes to their own wealth of craft only when foreigners start appreciating it. We (the Indian market) have allowed the aesthetic sensibilities developed by our traditional artisans to be debased by chasing after western products, fashion and style. "The good stuff is only for the select rich. The common customer is buying cheap imitations, synthetic and Chinese imitations.
the select rich. The common customer is buying cheap imitations, synthetic and Chinese imitations. "Today everyone is following this monster called the market instead of remembering culture, tradition and skill levels. Today's time is more about survival than revival. The Government should realize that crafts is an area for employment generation and sustainable livelihoods," Jaitley added.
Given her promotion of handloom art and crafts for four decades, Jaitley feels proper motivation can help in boosting the weavers' confidence. "If we allow our artisans to come forward and encourage them to follow the path ofliteracy and education while not abandoning their skills, then only can they come out of the shadow of exploiters. We just need many more platforms and innovative ways to do this. I have tried it with Dilli Haat and other such programmes," she said.
Currently Jaitley is busy with what she loves the most -- promoting "Handcrafting Promises" at Dilli Haat to mark the 25th anniversary of Dastkari Haat Crafts Bazaar. The spotlight is on African nations and she has invited artisans from Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda and Rwanda to exchange tips with their Indian counterparts. She also remembered social reformer and freedom fighter Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who was the driving force behind the revival of Indian handicrafts and handlooms.
"I greatly respected Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay's lifelong passion and hard work. She was in the freedom movement and was a part of those who could influence policies from a very nationalistic viewpoint," she said.
Originally published in The Stitch Times, February, 2012.