Mahatma Gandhi once famously said that every woman in rural India is a weaver. The Swadeshi Movement that he started in 1905, was pivoted to the Handloom sector. Recognizing how widely prevalent the practice of weaving is in rural India, Gandhi envisioned that it had the potential to create economic resistance to the British Government by boycotting the textile goods from the mills in Manchester. Even in the post-independence era, the Handloom sector continues to receive importance in government policies for rural communities, especially among women.
After agriculture, handicrafts are the biggest industry in rural India. Handloom easily comprises a big segment of the Handicraft sector. But let us examine how the Handloom sector is an integral part of the lives of women in rural India:
1. Traditions: The practice of weaving with manual looms has been a part of traditions in rural Indian communities for centuries. A strong presumption (production for one’s consumption) culture exists when it comes to textile goods. Women weave their textiles in their leisure time and often share their excess production as gifts or sell them in local markets.
2. Learning Early: Most women in rural India learn weaving at an early teenage. It is a norm in many communities that women should know the practice before they are at a marriageable age. Also, such skills flow from generation to generation. Mothers will teach their daughters who in turn will teach their daughters.
3. Community: Weaving is conducted as a community-wide practice. Women share designs and motifs with each other. They also sit together for spinning thread during the idle hours of the day when they do not have household chores or farm work.
The reason why the handloom industry is a different kind of empowerment for these women is that it does not demand new skill development. Nor does it require them to leave their homes for work. Most of these rural women have a busy life on the farm and are also expected to do household chores. During peak farming seasons, they work from dusk till dawn. The beauty of the handloom sector is that it effortlessly fits into their lifestyles and makes them feel more capable of earning for their families without leaving their homes. The Indian government supports this industry in multiple ways. Area Block offices provide yarn and loom to local women. The government also frequently holds training programs in villages. NGOs and companies also aid these women in reaching markets by procuring their products and taking over distribution and marketing. But some companies take it further. They experiment with these weaver communities on new materials and new techniques.