Field Trip Diaries — Where The Looms Spin in Gujarat

August 31, 2016
By Rang De Team

Textile weaving is an integral part of industry in the state of Gujarat, a significant share coming in from hand weavers in its remote villages

To most of us, Gujarat conjures up images of a vibrant people with a bent of mind for business, rich textiles and a delectable variety of food. To Rang De, it is a weaving community that forges a connection with Gujarat.

A few days ago, we paid a visit to a few weavers who have availed a loan from Rang De as a result of their association with SAATH Livelihoods. SAATH Livelihoods is an impact partner which aims at sustaining the traditional arts of weaving, establishing branding and market linkages for hand woven products and making the livelihoods of rural weavers/artisans sustainable.

Despite the heavy rains, we set out from Ahmedabad towards Dedadra village to meet Babu Bhai Rathod, a weaver who had availed his first loan from Rang De in July 2015. Having repaid the first loan, he has recently received his second loan. We were welcomed with a humble chai which was a different experience because chai in Gujarat is had from a small plate. Soon, we were given a tour of his work area, at the centre of which his pit loom was situated.

Babu Bhai Rathod works on his pit loom for no less than 8 to 9 hours each day, weaving colourful kurtas, shawls and dupattas

A pit loom, unlike regular surface level looms, comprises of a pit in which to operate and rest the legs while the weaving takes place above ground. Katariya village’s Narshi Bhai, the borrower that we met next, had a regular large sized loom.

While the type of looms may vary, every home in the region has a loom or ghoda, as it is natively called, without exception. The tradition of weaving, after all, has been handed down generations and the loom constitutes a prized piece of legacy. We discovered from our interaction with these weavers that the fear of weaving forms such as Tangalia, Patola and Ikat dying out is all too real.

Weaving is slowly becoming less favourable as a livelihood option, as youngsters find more economically rewarding alternatives

“We would rather our children pursue something that is more economically rewarding,’’ said Babu Bhai.

Similar views are also echoed by the younger generation, their resistance made stronger by the sedentary and physically draining nature of weaving at the loom for long hours.

Further, weaving also requires an eye for detail and immense concentration. One small tug at the loom at the wrong time can cause an inconsistency in design that, no matter how small, can still cause the garment to be termed defective.

Macro factors too are drawing youngsters away from weaving. A historical shortage of water has been solved by a wide and well connected canal system. Over the years, this has spurted a large scale cultivation of BT cotton. At a wage rate of Rs 500 per 20 kilograms of cotton picked, it is easy to imagine why spending three days to hand weave a dupatta is less attractive.

There are certainly signs of improvement in the lifestyles of people as times change — most homes are concrete, sanitation systems are well established, schools are accessible and functional. Yet, organisations like SAATH Livelihoods are championing the survival of art forms that are beautiful, individualistic and rooted in the lives of the people of Gujarat.

Rang De works in association with SAATH Livelihoods, providing affordable capital to weavers in Gujarat who still strive to preserve the heritage of hand looms

Rang De has facilitated the work of SAATH Livelihoods by disbursing loans amounting to Rs 820,000 from the time of first partnering in May 2015. It is a partnership that we would love to see thrive, much like the very tradition of weaving that SAATH seeks to protect.

Impact team member Harmandeep Singh visited the villages of Dedadra and Katariya in August 2016.

We regularly carry out field trips to ensure that Rang De loans are making the desired impact on the poor communities that we seek to empower. You can see the upcoming field trips on our Field Trip calendar and join us, or you can sign up for audio evaluations by filling up a form here.