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Meet the Weavers from Sathanur | Weaving Project

Weaving Project

Sathanur is a village in Karnataka State, located about 75 km from Bangalore. The monsoons are highly irregular here and the villagers can cultivate only one crop per season. The rest of the year the men usually migrate in search of labour. About half of the population are scheduled tribe or scheduled castes (SC/ST), mostly living below the poverty line. There are no major industries situated within a radius of 40 km of the village and local employment opportunities in the region are virtually non-existent. A few farmers, fortunate to have irrigation facilities from deep bore wells practice sericulture and horticulture. The water table is fast receding and open wells are drying up.

Project History

Weaving Photo

Development Alternatives (DA) has been working in Sathanur since 1990, when it started a training programme for SC/ST women in handweaving on the TARAloom designed and developed by DA. The project began with funding from the Karnataka Scheduled Tribe Scheduled Caste Corporation (a government body). DA trained 20 women in Sathanur during 1990-91 and helped many of them to acquire loans to set up TARAlooms.

Early on the Karnataka Handicrafts Development Commission (KHDC) had committed to providing a market for the cloth developed. The micro-enterprises were set to begin when the KHDC backed out of their promises of providing a market for the fabric.

Anand Dhanuar is a textile engineer who has been responsible for the project from its inception. He recalls, "We arranged for the officials to come to the village but we told the villagers it was up to them to convince the officials that they should continue with the project." When the officials came about 500 people gathered to hold a 'gherev.' They surrounded the officials in a circle and peacefully detained them by creating a wall of their bodies. They had decided not to let these officials out until they had promised to help them. The officials were furious but eventually they called the director of KHCD and said that marketing support must be given and the second training program started. The women have been weaving for a livelihood ever since."

The Training Programme

Like most traditional crafts in India, weaving is caste based. Sathanur is not a weavers village. In weaving villages the children begin at an early age and become master weavers by 19 or 20. One of the biggest difficulties DA faced was the stigma attached to the women. Because they were scheduled caste women and not from the weaving castes people felt that their products could not possibly be high quality.

Although outsiders were skeptical of the abilities of the villagers to learn this craft, the women of Sathanur proved them wrong. Not only have they proven themselves to be excellent weavers, they have also trained the men and children to help them. Early on, Anand notes, the men had avoided involvement, saying these things were "nine day wonders." However, once wages started coming they started helping and also weaving. Many families immediately doubled their income.

DA has continued to train more women at Sathanur by opening a training and production center in the village. During 1996-97, 10 women have been trained in silk spinning and handweaving cotton and another 10 women have been trained in hand weaving. After the completion of the second session KHDC withdrew marketing support (except for the original batch of women). The villagers wanted to have another 'gherev' but no officials would come to the village.

Anand says, "We realized that we couldn't rely on the government. We needed to provide marketing support. That is when TARA (the sister unit of DA involved in marketing) got involved. Eight months passed as we were trying to develop new markets. Finally we got a trial order from an exporter." Unfortunately the raw material the exporter provided to work with was very bad so the end result was not high in quality. The exporter did not accept the material which had taken all of the women 15 days to weave. "From this," Anand notes, "we learned that all stages of production need good supervision."

Establishing the Production Centre

For one and a half years DA engaged in research and development on silk weaving and improving the TARAloom. These projects were carried out in traditional weaving villages in Andra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The first group of women continued selling to KHDC.

"Research and development," Anand says, "often never has any application. There is no fun in trying to find new ways of doing things if it is never implemented. We were still dedicated to trying to continue or work in Karnataka. Finally we were able to raise funds to move our activities back to establish a full fledged production centre in Sathanur." The second batch of weavers who had been trained and those among the first batch who had been ineligible for loans were chosen to work in the production centre. DA provided two looms, two master weavers, two technical supervisors and one general supervisor.

"Production." Anand notes, "is something very different from research and development. You have to be very efficient. We had an order for 4500 meters from a multi-national company producing outerwear as well as custom orders from 8 Bangalore based designers." "Marketing," Anand concedes, "is the toughest part of my job." Considering he's a textile engineer it is perhaps no wonder.

Unique Products and Features

One of the unique products the DA produces is called Ahimsa, or cruelty free silk. In traditional silk-making the silk worm dies when the pod is immersed in water but in Ahimsa the pod is carefully cut open and the worm is released. This product appeals to many people in India and abroad for ethical reasons.

DA has also trained the weavers to use dobbies and jacquard weaving. These techniques allow the weavers to integrate beautiful and intricate designs on the silks, producing Sarees for the Indian market.

DA also started meeting with old weavers to tap into their wealth of information about natural dyes.

Another interesting feature of the DA woven goods the unique colours obtained by the use of natural and eco-friendly synthetic dyes. Local women are now being taught to use Procion dyes and natural dyes such as indigo, pomegranate rind, myrobalan, and lac. Anand recalls, "When we began exploring natural dyes, people started bringing fruits and leaves to the Centre to see what the dye properties they might have. Two young boys used to come in each morning and say in a sing song voice, "Colour colour! What colour!" and then would go searching for some natural matter which might produce the desired effect!"

Programme Obstacles

One of the biggest hurdles in the path towards sustainable livelihoods at Sathanur has been local alcohol abuse. Anand recalls, "Men would come into the training Centre drunk and then shout at their wives and start yelling. We solved this by calling other villagers who would often end up beating them up. Other men would come and just ogle young women at the training. It seemed to infuriate them that the women were all learning together and enjoying themselves."

Effluent treatment is a problem DA is currently studying. The effluent after the dying (even with natural dyes) has high BOD (it uses up the oxygen in the water). DA is trying to deal with this through CLEAN (another group within DA that focuses on cleaner technologies). They are also experimenting with solar technologies to heat the water up for dying. Right now they heat the water up using non-renewable fuel.

Future Plans

DA currently has 18 looms running and would like to eventually have fifty. They are becoming known for their custom woven designs. From their early beginnings in loom design to operating a full fledged training and production system they have come a long way and faced many hurdles. There are still many arenas where project staff are quick to point out they want to improve in. For example, DA is trying to develop organic cotton and another of their field sites and would eventually like to produce organic silk as well.

DA encouraged the weavers to form a cooperative society. It is hoped that this cooperative will play a major role in strengthening the community and creating a stimulus for change. Future plans in the village include training women in cutting and sewing and constructing living cum workshops. DA also hopes to introduce rooftop rain water harvesting of household wastes, solar energy for cooking, and vermicomposting.

When asked to define a sustainable livelihood, Anand thought for a moment then said, "Sustainable livelihoods in Sathanur means earning the equivalent of about 2000 RS per month doing things like farming, weaving, spinning, dyeing for all the days to come. A job is something you have to do to earn money but a sustainable livelihood is a healthy way of living. We have to be committed to stay in Sathanur. We have to make sure the enterprises we develop are environmentally sound. We have to make sure these incomes are steady. It is not just a job - it is going to sustain these people throughout their lives. For us at DA to help create sustainable livelihoods, good work has to be an internal obsession."

For More Information

Several articles regarding weaving from the Development Alternatives newsletter are available online. In addition, sales information about DA's handloomed products or the TARAloom is available from:

B-32 Tara Crescent
Qutab Institutional Area
New Delhi - 110 016
Tel : +91-11-696-7938 or +91-11-685-1158
Fax : +91-11-686-6031
Email: tara@sdalt.ernet.in

Meet the Weavers from Sathanur | Weaving Project

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