Debating India


Rough Silk

Friday 14 April 2006, by MENON*Jaya

KANCHEEPURAM, APRIL 13 : In a dingy one-room low-ceiling house, A Vajjiravel, peers at the bright silk yard before him. As he carefully works on the single loom in his house, garish peach coloured threads are woven with subtle blue, and slowly a motif emerges - haughty male and docile female peacocks interwoven with the words ?Balaji weds Mala’ and the date of the nuptial.

Vajjiravel is weaving a pure silk brocaded sari for a bride-to-be with some innovations to beat the competition. It’s a glorious silk tradition that weavers in Pillaiyarpalayam are fighting hard to preserve. But behind those gorgeous yards in India’s silk capital, lies quiet despair of nearly a lakh weavers which may decide the fate of the May 8 Assembly election in this constituency. But, maybe not, either.

??Weavers are losing jobs as factories are closing down due to stock pile-ups and drastic slump in business. Salaries of weavers (about Rs 100 a day) have not been revised in years,’’ says KV Sarguna Nathan, who gave up his small business of six looms, unable to manage the rising costs and declining sales.

Spread across Pillaiyarpalayam, Ayyankulam, Muthialpet, Cheyyar, Dusi, Mamandoor, all in a radius of 40 km around Kancheepuram town with its own sprinkling of weavers, the region is well-known around the world for its silk sarees with pure zari.

Strangely though, the silk town gets its raw materials from outside - raw silk from Bangalore (where the climate is more suitable for sericulture) and zari from Surat. These have only added to the production costs, besides rising prices of silver and gold.

The industry went on a two-day hartal in March, urging the state and central governments to check the price of raw silk. It used to be Rs 1,200 a kg, shooting up to Rs 1,900. ??But the unit cost of silk sarees remained static,’’ says YM Narayanasamy, president of the Kancheepuram Handloom Silk Manufacturers’ Association. ??Successive governments have done precious little ...Neither AIADMK nor DMK have bothered to take up our problems.’’

But weavers have hardly used the Assembly elections as leverage. Caste polarisation ensured that politicians got away with little accountability, claims V Singara Mudaliar, a leading manufacturer and the second president of the Manufacturers’ Association.

The weavers’ community is dominated by the mudaliars (Backward Caste), who have traditionally backed the AIADMK as against the ?most backward’ Naickers who supported the DMK.

??Political parties have been shrewdly playing the caste card. The contest could have been tough if the DMK had fielded a candidate. But the seat has been given to a PMK (Naicker) candidate (Shakthi Kamalammal) and the election here could well be a walk over for the AIADMK (Mudaliar) candidate (Mythili Thirunavukkarasu),’’ said Narayanasamy, a CPI(M) sympathiser and an ex-state committee member.

See online : The Indian Express

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