Change.org is presently carrying an interesting petition addressed to the Prime Minister of India- one that is lobbying against the repeal of the Handlooms Reservation Act, 1985. The Handlooms Reservation Act is a small and innocous looking legislation (available here). The crux of this Act is S. 5 which prohibits the production of reserved articles by any loom other than a handloom. This provides a degree of protection for handloom weavers and their products.
However, it appears that there is a move to repeal the Handlooms Reservation Act, a consequence of strong lobbying by the influential powerloom lobby, according to the petition. This repeal means that the powerloom sector is no longer legally obligated to desist from producing the reserved products. This would result in the handloom sector, which is already struggling to survive, having to lock horns with the powerloom sector.
The petition also points out that powerlooms would be unable to replace handlooms. “The handloom can create thousands of distinctive regional weaves and designs that no powerloom can replicate, and a tactile wonderful drape that is also irreplaceable by mechanised means.”, claims the petition. It also attempts to put forward an economic argument by stating that there is a market for handloom products among the increasing number of ecologically sensitive international buyers. Moreover, the petition also notes that each handloom product has a cultural tradition and history which we would be destroying if we remove the protections and incentives available to them under the law.
This petition currently has 15,686 supporters on Change.org. Our handloom weavers and industries are struggling to make ends meet, despite the existence of legal protections such as the 1985 Act. In such a scenario, the repeal of the Act certainly does not bode well for our handloom industry.