Weaving is the process of making clothing by interlacing fibre threads. India is a vast and diverse country with a rich history of weaving. Examples of Indian cotton textiles date back to 5,000 years ago. References to Hiranya, or cloth made of gold, can be found in the ancient Vedic texts.
The most common Indian textile is the Saree - a traditional garment of Indian women that is made from a single, long piece of fabric. There are weaving centers in India that have been making sarees since the 12th century. By the time trading customs were established along the historic Silk Road, India was well-known for its woven textiles.
Different regions, villages, and communities throughout India have unique weaving traditions - each with their own distinct customs and patterns. Depending on the location, textiles may be woven from cotton, wool or silk. Today, weaving remains important to India's economy with roughly 4.3 million people involved in the craft. India even has a Ministry of Textiles.
Most of the weaving in India is done on handlooms which are manually powered. A loom is a frame that holds the warp threads that run vertically along the length of the intended fabric. The warp threads are then interlaced with weft, or filler threads positioned at a right angle, thus forming the fabric. In Indian weaving vocabulary, the warp threads are called the tana and the weft threads are called the bana.
The handloom sector is one of the most important industries for the Indian economy and is a kaleidoscopic peek into the nation’s rich and diverse culture. It perfectly showcases India’s skill, ingenuity and expertise to the world. This industry has the highest employment rate after agriculture and accounts for 4 percent of the GDP, 14 percent of industrial production and 17 percent of the country’s total export earnings.
Handlooms also have a low carbon footprint, as they consume less infrastructure, technology and power. The importance of the sustainability of handlooms in the ever-growing Indian fashion industry cannot be overstated.
Complete negligence of handlooms could lead us towards the extinction of this native skill and indigenous craft.
To encourage indigenous craftsmanship and foster skill development in India's youth, we need to provide the opportunities to explore different skills from a young age. Necessary policies need to be implemented, allowing apprenticeship to be acknowledged as education without being classified as child labor.
The minimum wage rate for specialized skills should be commensurate with the level of skill and expertise involved. Such rates cannot be blanket and overarching. Region-specific, weave-specific rating systems have to be devised.
For centuries, India has been highly regarded as the producer of the most exquisite textiles in the world - a reputation earned despite the trade and communication constraints of those times. In this era of communication and global trade transactions, we cannot allow the sacred looms of Indian weavers to become factory sweatshops.
"If we do not skill India, we will kill India." – Sadhguru
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