THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Balaramapuram, a small village in the capital region famous for its handlooms, is weaving a new dream as its GI-tagged products are slowly finding a niche market among Malayalis in the US. The efforts of around 500 ‘backyard handloom weavers’ are in motion to set up a producer company of weavers with the support of Nabard and a few agencies.
These artisans are those who own only a single handloom and struggle to eke out a living from the 200-odd-year profession in their own backyard. They are among the worst-hit of the weaving community that is spread across a 15km radius in two panchayat blocks, around 20km east of Thiruvananthapuram city.
Following the intervention of Centre for Innovation in Science and Social Action (CISSA), an NGO, handloom products worth over Rs 20 lakh were exported to the US ahead of the Onam season and orders started flowing in over the last few months. This offer came their way after Covid lockdown wrecked the business and pushed them towards poverty.
The idea of a producer weaver company was first proposed by Nabard chief manager P Balachandran. “As part of our initiatives in the unorganized sector, we approached the weavers with a proposal to empower them with the help of Nabard. Their immediate request was to help sell finished handloom products in every household that rose amid lockdown. That’s how we sought the help of Union minister V Muraleedharan to explore overseas markets for the product. He linked us to Malayali organizations in US and for the past few months, they are placing steady orders for handloom clothes,” said general secretary of CISSA Dr C Suresh Kumar.
The NGO, which conducts Global Ayurveda Fest, had no plans to meddle with the organized handloom weavers who are part of 350 cooperative societies. Once the proposed company owned by the weavers themselves takes off, all traditional workers would enjoy benefits, he said. CISSA has identified 500 of them who will be made stakeholders of the proposed company.
One of the major problems faced by the sector was low wages, deterring youngsters. “You won’t see a traditional weaver aged below 35. How can one expect them to take up this craft when they can earn less than Rs 300 for a day’s labour?,” asked Manikandan, a traditional handloom weaver who picked up the baton 30 years ago.
CISSA volunteers are planning to unite these weavers, provide training in product diversification and ensure professional guidance to run their company. Once there is scope for skill enhancement and product diversification, newer markets are bound to open, they added.
“The age-old legacy of Balaramapuram handloom artisans should be preserved. We have requested US Malayalis to support them and they responded positively. I request all Malayali families to buy at least one mundu or sari of Balaramapuram handloom this Onam,” said Muraleedharan.