You are not spinning a yarn if you say there have been job losses in the Indian handloom sector. This is the sense we got, talking to people working in the field. Take the case of Vanagari Praveen. The 30-year old Praveen used to work as a handloom weaver, primarily weaving sarees in Narayanapuram, near Pochampally, the handloom hub in Telangana, known nationally for its 'ikat' sarees. Today, Praveen works for a courier company in Hyderabad. He relocated to Hyderabad eight years ago, finding the payment of Rs 500 for weaving a saree quite unsustainable. What is worrying, however, is he sees little incentive in going back home and start weaving again. "I evaluated the job opportunities, got myself trained in DTP (desktop publishing) and joined the courier company. In my current job, I earn Rs 25,000 a month but looking at the economics in weaving, today I will be able to earn at best, anywhere between Rs 13,000 and Rs 18,000 a month. Therefore, despite the added living expenses in a city, I see little benefit in returning to weaving."
Donthi Narasimha Reddy, who runs Chetana Society, an NGO focussed on sustainable development, has been associated with the handloom sector for nearly three decades. He says Praveen is not alone and there will be many like him who have left the handloom sector and sought alternative employment opportunities. Although, he is quick to add that not everyone is as lucky as Praveen. Most of them end up having menial job or no job at all. "Employment in the handloom sector has not increased in the last ten years. In fact, it has decreased," he says. Quoting numbers, he says, there were 43 lakh people engaged in weaving and allied activities as per the third Handloom Census, carried out in 2009-10 as compared to 65.5 lakh, as per the second Handloom Census conducted in 1995-96.
"The Handloom Census 2009-10 shows employment for only 43 lakh people. We now await the findings of the fourth national handloom census, which was initiated in April, 2017. Its results are yet to be announced."
On asking about the job status of the last five years, he says, many indicators show that employment in handloom industry has not increased. "For instance, the handloom fabric production in 2014-15 was 64,332 million square metres, which in 2016-17 went down to 63,480 million square metres, as per Annual Report 2017-18 (Ministry of Textiles)."
He further quoted a note on Handloom Sector, prepared by Ministry of Textiles in December 2015, that says number of handloom weavers is declining sharply. He then refers to an answer in the Lok Sabha that says average earnings of handloom weavers households was Rs 37,704 per annum in 2009-10 (Lok Sabha Unstarred Question no.457, answered on 19.7.2018). Reddy points out Rs 37,704 is not enough to maintain a decent standard of living. He also notes that budgetary allocation to handloom sector has declined in the last five years.