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    Kanchipuram: A silk handloom hub is on the verge of losing its identity

    india | IST

    Kanchipuram: A silk handloom hub is on the verge of losing its identity

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    CNBC-TV18’s award-winning What’s Ailing Rural India series sees reporters travel to small towns and hamlets, to get a pulse of key economic issues that are affecting everyday life

    At Panneerselvam’s handloom just outside Kanchipuram’s town limits, saree-weaving isn’t exactly happening at a fast clip. Two years ago, his loom was spinning about 15 sarees a month.
    Today, his weavers are lucky if they get orders for five. However, that isn’t the only problem. Supplies — raw silk, in this case — have been hard to come by.
    “Shopkeepers tell us: “either sell us sarees for the old rate or we’re not interested”,” says Panneerselvam, “They simply won’t buy from us if we even go so far as to talk about revising prices.”
    He adds: “You can’t blame them. They can’t increase retail prices either since they will be questioned by customers over a sudden price-hike.”
    Kanchipuram’s weaving and Kanjeevaram saree retail business has found itself in a quandary in the last six months. A pronounced supply problem surrounding raw silk procurements has become the fly in the ointment for weavers and retailers, alike.
    This has occurred on account of India halving its raw silk imports from China but failing to offset this lacuna with equivalent domestic production, thereby leaving weavers with escalating costs amid unsatisfactory sales.
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    The cost of raw silk has surged from Rs 2,500 per kilogram in December, to over Rs 6,000 today. Demand for Kanjeevaram sarees haven’t exactly hit the roof either in the post-lockdown period and shops are in no hurry to stock up, as retailers prefer to exhaust existing supply.
    A snap poll of retailers in Kanchipuram reveals that procurement has dropped by a whopping 75 percent.
    “Work hasn’t been good for over a year, ever since the second wave of COVID,” says M Dorai, a handloom weaver in the town, “It isn’t just weaving but many other sectors that have been affected. At one point, some of us did not have enough to feed ourselves.”
    His colleague, Devanathan who works at the same handloom, agrees. “I have a pile of sarees lying unsold,” he says, “We end up selling our finished products to retail stores only when asked. Until then, they end up lying here.”
    The situation has thrown an already struggling cottage industry into complete disarray. At Kamatchiamman Colony, a tiny low-income residential neighbourhood within Kanchipuram, a relatively smaller handloom is among a handful that still function in the area. Ironically, this neighbourhood is was earmarked for small weavers to ply their trade.
    P Sundaram, a weaver like his father and grandfather in the neighbourhood, says his generation will be the last to man the loom. The reason: abysmally low wages that haven’t been hiked in 15 years.
    “I fall short of 6,000 to 7,000 rupees on average every month when compared to what I used to earn before COVID,” he says, “This trade ends with my generation; nobody is going to continue it in the future, as there are better jobs on offer. My son will not be a weaver because he won’t make a living, here.”
    Weavers say a temporary fix to their problems is possible if input costs are passed to the customer. But at once-buzzing showrooms that are hardly seeing footfalls today, shopkeepers say they simply will not hike prices.
    “It isn’t possible to increase prices,” says D Sampath, Proprietor at DM Silks, “There is a perception in the market on how much a basic wedding saree would cost, and that price is about 30,000 to 40,000 rupees. So, there is no way customers will pay 60,000 rupees for that saree. At the most, we can look to hike prices by 5 percent, but not more.”
    This leaves weavers pinning their hopes on a Diwali boom for better orders. However, the uncertainty prevails, and with it, thousands of livelihoods rest in the balance.
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