Changing hands – the possible repeal of the Indian Handlooms (Reservation) Act

In the last few weeks, much discussion has been stirred up among the design community in India thanks to the mention of possible amendments to be made to the Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985. An act meant to protect the rights and interests of traditional and independent weavers, the Handloom Act ensured that certain items of clothing were mean to be produced exclusively by the handloom and weaving industry. Including popular items such as the sari and the dhoti, the list of products exclusive to the Handloom industry provides a tempting acquisition to the larger industrial players who were quick to move the proposition for an amendment in the Handloom act at the recently concluded high level meetings of the Textile industry and ministry.

This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of krishanu_seal
This photo was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution License and was taken from the Flickr photo stream of krishanu_seal

What could repealing or amending the Act mean to artists?

The implications of a change in the Handloom (Reservation) Act, 1985 can be wide reaching and dangerous. For starters, a number of traditional weavers and artisans depend on the revenues earned from the handloom sector. Although permitting the powerloom industry access to these traditional designs might strengthen and enhance the availability of these designs, this wide scale distribution arguably will come at the cost of the livelihoods of several hundreds of weaver communities and families.

From the perspective of cultural property and heritage, amendments to the Act and the consequent production of traditional designs by non-traditional industries might cause significant deviation from the authenticity and traditional value attached to these art forms. In simple words, should a factory be making something that an individual has learnt from traditional knowledge passed down over generations after generations?

How important is the Handloom sector in developing and culturally diverse countries like India? Should exclusivity be maintained in the interest of economic and cultural sovereignty or should access over rule such a claim? Do let us know in the comments below. If you’d like you can also check out this comprehensive report drafted by the Planning Commission of India on the subject of Handlooms and Handicrafts (2012-2017 report).

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