Number of participants: about 90
Papers presented: about 20
Key-note addresses: Two

Highlights of the Presentations

The presentations were broadly under three themes, which later fed into the theme-discussion on Textiles that followed.

(A) Living Traditions and Creative Initiatives

Features of the traditional mode of textile activity that lend it vitality and relevance today were outlined by various speakers through case-studies. K.Aravindakshan outlined the socio-cultural history of the Devanga Community of weavers in Kerala describing how they have carved out a niche for themselves in the modern market. Ashok Kumar of Bombay showed the salient ecological advantages of the Khad mode of production vis-a-vis the power-process. The main strength of Khadi lay, he said, in its extremely minimal use of land, non-renewable energy and polluting inputs. A telling point was made when he revealed, through elementary computations, that a switch-over from powe room to hand loom, alone would save enough power that is tantamount to a several-fold increase in India's nuclear power generation capacity. Y.P.Kohli of Arunachal Pradesh and Joshmayee Devi of Assam adumbrated the unique features of the household-mode of textile production in the North-East. The cultural moorings of this activity and its relationship to local resources were brought out in the presentations. Aarti Aggarwal (IIT - Delhi), in her perceptive paper, analyzed the organizational features of handlooms in the private and Government (Co-op). Sector with particular reference to Tamilnadu. Prof.B.M.Anand of NID (Ahmedabad) brought out the diversity of textile techniques obtaining in different parts of the country, in his comprehensive slide - assisted talk. R.Gnanasigamani of Padiyur Sarvodaya Sangh traced the evolution of the endeavors of his organization in propogating Khadi. L.Kannan of PPST Foundation elaborated on the aspects of cloth-making in Ponduru that have enabled the traditional tools and skills to remain unrivalled and unmodified till today. The work of the Arthik Samata Mandal is using the pit-loom as the instrument of deliverance of weavers facing starvation in Krishna Dt. (AP) was also described by L.Kannan in another presentation, Uzramma of Dastkar (AP) recounted her experiences with weavers in the Chinnoor region of Adifabad Dt. bringing out facets of understanding that have frequently eluded blinkered 'development' missionaries. Jyoti Parekh of Bombay dwelt on her experiences in a couple of villages nearby, which re-affirmed the validity of the charkha as the instrument of social transformation.

(B) Traditional Vegetable and Mineral Dyes of India

The session began with K.V.Chandramouli detailing many lost and forgotten techniques of dyeing that were prevalent in different parts of India. Apart from serving as a tacit indictment for callously frittering away our heritage, the point that emerged from his presentation was that these processes could not possibly have emerged from a blind trial-and-error approach. The refinements of techniques described, though probably, based on a science different from, the modem, must certainly have been guided by a theoretical basis and logical rigor. This presentation was fittingly followed up by K.K.Trivedi (JNU, New Delhi), who showed that the pre-modern technique of indigo extraction in the 17th century was in fact superior to the 19th century method that is still practiced today. He detailed the various features that revealed an intimate understanding, among the earlier practitioners, of the kinetics of the reaction involved. He showed how, as a result of several differences, the older method yielded a higher per-unit output. B.R.Venugopal of Bangalore underscored the need to revitalize our natural dyeing traditions in the light of Worldwide awareness of the hazards of synthetic dyes. Padmini Balram (Ahmedabad) detailed, using" a rare collection of slides, the Indigo dyeing traditions of India.

(C) Traditional Indian Varieties of Cotton

The session was chaired by Shri.Parthasarathy of the Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technology (Bombay)..In his presentation, Dr.S.S.Narayanan (Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur) explained the present site of cotton cultivation in the country, in which American hybrids have acquired a predominant position. He also explained the advances made through research on cotton and the development of new varieties. Taking off from where he left, Prof.K.Janakiraman of the Gujarat Agricultural University, Ahmedabad, said that research had revealed the definite superiority of traditional varieties with respect to pest-resistance, low requirement of inputs like water and fertilizers and general hardiness. He showed how their popularization can be beneficial, especially to the small farmer, as they allow for inter-cropping and mixed-cropping. The realization has dawned in academic circles, he said, that even where new hybrids are being developed, at least one of the parents must belong to a native strain.

(D) Special Sessions

Two distinguished veteran Khadi Workers shared their thoughts and experiences with the
participants in separate sessions. They were Smt. Ushabehn Mehta and Shri. Narayanbhai

Plenary Sessions

(A)Shri L.C.Jain (NewDelhi) Indian Textiles

Talking on Policies, Trends and future prospects, he lambasted the government for its infantile and ill-conceived policies. Taking the latest Rs.1500 crores allocation to the handloom-sector as an example, he showed how such misdirected "assistance" would only deepen the crisis the industry was in. Voicing the apprehension that such schemes were drawn up only to siphon off public resources and gain petty electoral mileage, he made a strong appeal to address the real issues confronting the industry, chiefly the problem of inadequate yam 'supply to handlooms. He expatiated on possibilities like the creation of a revolving fund to supply yarn to handlooms as stable prices, showing how the problem is far from being intractable, given the requisite political will. Reiterating that handlooms as a technology is still relevant and viable today, he warned that willful neglect of its potential would push the country over the brink.

(B) Shri Bhakta Bhushan Som (West Bengal)

The veteran freedom fighter spoke in an autobiographical note. His address brought out, with the force of personal involvement, the power of handlooms in mitigating many of our social problems. His account of his on-going work in Bengal, where he uses handlooms as the instrument to rehabilitate destitute women, was particularly engrossing. Shri.A.N.Bose, his close associate, who translated Bhakt-da's Bengali Speech, supplemented it with unimpeachable statistics that brought out the ability of handlooms to clothe the nation if only their full capacity was utilized.

Exhibitions Demonstrations, Workshops

The exhibition venue was devoid of 'stalls'. It was organized like a hamlet around a central tree, the floor of which was encircled by a raised mud-platform plastered with cow-dung and decorated with 'rangoli’. The exhibition featured the Ponduru Khadi Pit-loom, Chinnur pit-loom, Paithani loom, Telia Rumal Loom, Durry-loom and a Three-shuttle loom. All of these were in operation, demonstrating different techniques of weaving. Visitors and delegates were also encouraged to operate the Chinnur pit-loom and the Durry-loom. Apart from the looms there was an on-going demonstration of Vegetable Dyeing at-the venue, with-one color being dyed each day-on silk, wool and cotton. Large numbers of participants evinced interest in this, especially because the techniques demonstrated were simple, using /easily available, raw-materials. Swatches of silk, wool and cotton dyed in different colors, samples of the raw-materials used and brief write-ups of the processes involved formed the backdrop to this demonstration. There was also a panel detailing the indigo-dyeing process, displaying many indigo-dyed cloth pieces. Cotton ginning, carding and spinning using traditional techniques were also featured in the exhibition. Most of/the visitors to the venue tried their hand at spinning and weaving. Panels at the venue depicted the processes involved in making the fine-khadi of Ponduru, the efforts of the Arthik Samata Mandai in overcoming starvation among weavers in Krishna Dt. (AP), facets of the traditional textile activity in the North-East, regional diversity of traditional looms of India and traditional varieties of cotton. An artist from Sri Kalahasti demonstrated the Kalamkari art. Antique textiles from the personal collection of Shri.K.V.Chndramouli were also on display.

The workshop Gram-Swaraj Abhiyan provided participants with an exposure to all stages of the textile-making activity. Since most of the technical sessions were also held at the exhibition venue, participants could freely interact with many resource persons and activists in the field. The atmosphere of easy bonhomie and earnestness of purpose that built up was largely the result of the attitude of weavers and other traditional practitioners. One participant who learnt spinning during the Abhiyan had spun two hanks of yarn of 500 m each, by the end of the Congress. The second hank was of quality comparable to-that spun by experienced practitioners. Over the course of the Abhiyan, which lasted through air the days of the Congress, more than ten meters of cloth was spun by various participants and other delegates on one pit-loom, which was then sold at the venue.

The exhibition and workshop were organized through the involvement of Dastkar Hyderabad, Crafts Council of India (Madras), Weavers Service Centre (Bombay), Mahajanam (Bombay), and the Central Institute of Cotton Research (Nagpur).


The Section had about ninety participants in all Voluntary Agencies - Dastkar, Crafts Council of India, Mahajanam Kalashram, Jan Vikas Andolan, Sarvoday Sangh etc. (40 participants).

Academic/Research Institutions

JNU, CICR (Nagpur), C1RCT (Bombay) institutions Gujarat Agl. Univ. (Ah'bad), Gandhigram, JN College (Arunachal) etc. (10 Participants).

Government Agencies

Weavers Service Centre (8 Participants)

Artisans: Weavers, Dyers, block-printers etc. (15 Participants)
Scholars: IIT-Delhi, VGTI (Bombay) etc., (5 Participants)
Genl Public: 10 Participants
Farmers: 3 Participants

State-wise break-up

50 Participants from Bombay, 20 Participants from AP, 10 Participants from TN, Rest from elsewhere.

Conclusions, Recommendations, Proposed follow-up

To deliberate on these, a theme-discussion "Weaving a Vision" was held that lasted six sessions (of 100 min. each). The various facets of the textile activity and their relationship to the socio-economic context were analyzed thread-bare. Considering the diversity of backgrounds] from which the participants were drawn, and the fact that most were meeting each-other for the first time, it is not surprising that there were significant differences of perception at the outset. However, the group was able to arrive at a broad and coherent understanding of many of the fundamental issues involved. Some conclusions were reached on the ideal structure of the textile industry that is suited to our ethos:

- A village-level self-sufficient textile activity is the comer-stone of the revitalization of our moribund economy,

- Adherence to traditions for their own sake is not a virtue in itself. However, where new technologies come up for consideration, they need to be evaluated on the basis of the following questions:

• Is it sustainable?
• Does it promote the well-being of the most under-privileged?
• Does it reinforce parasitic power structures at, the expense of individual autonomy?
• Is the technology amenable to local control through use of local materials and skills?
• Is it environmentally sound?

- Synthetic fibers (including 'polyester-khadi') and power-operated looms fail this test on all counts. Modern 'improved' high-productivity handlooms and the multi-spindle hand-operated Ambar C.harkha too show up poorly in the test. Little seems to have happened in the area of technology to surpass the humble charkha, or the pit-loom.

- Cotton cultivation that relies on high energy inputs like chemical fertilizers and pesticides can have no place. Varieties of cotton suited to each micro-eco-region need to be identified to fulfill the needs of the specific regions, rather than for exporting to distant markets.

- Natural dyes using locally available raw-materials offer a comprehensive alternative to hazardous and polluting synthetic dyes.


- Policy planners should overcome their obsession for mystic catch-all quantities like GNP, balance-of-trade and export surplus. These terms mask the folly of our policies. For instance, cloth is exported to earn foreign-exchange that goes to buy medi-care equipment to treat diseases born of synthetic-fiber, plants and chemical dyes that Were set up to make cloth,

- Attention of policies should be diverted, instead, at the communities of people involved in the activity, so that we move towards the paradigm structure outlined above. For instance, communities practicing natural dyeing techniques must be nurtured to foster the use of natural dyes in the common man's cloth, hot to tap a fickle export market. Efforts to popularize cultivation of indigenous varieties of cotton must go hand in hand with propagating local-consumption of cotton for hand-spinning*. Planning must be directed towards regeneration of the local resource-base like forests, fuel wood and water-sources and towards bringing them under the direct control of local communities. This will stem the predatory onslaught of rapacious industries and create a climate conducive to local initiative. Bereft of environmental subsidy and structural patronage, this liberal climate will lead to the obsolescence of the 'modern-sector’.

- Whereas the creation of an appropriate textile activity would necessarily take some time, we today face the imminent prospect of large-scale deskilling and destitution of traditional artisans. The Government must take immediate measures to prevent this human tragedy in the making. Among other ameliorative steps, the government must ensure the implementation of the two legislations recently upheld by the Supreme Court.

(a) Reservation of product lines for hand-looms. ,
(b) Hank-yam obligation on spinning-mills to pack at least 50% of their output for hand looms.

- To respond wisely to the future, one must understand the past. However, our understanding of traditional textile technologies has been minimal thanks to our pre-occupation with 'catching-up' with the modem. The tremendous diversity of looms, yam-preparation methods, dyeing techniques, cotton varieties, methods of cultivation etc., have gone largely undocumented, leave alone understood. The few efforts in this direction have also been by and large hampered by a supercilious attitude and have merely served to justify 'innovations' and 'technology-up gradations conjured up by the whistle-stop researchers. Textile technology institutes and centers researching on cotton must make earnest efforts to comprehend the vast repertory of traditional knowledge that underlies practices in these areas.


A working group-on textiles was constituted from among the participants at the Congress. The members of this group reflect a diversity of training, background and placement and can fruitfully strengthen each other's efforts. The group decided to eschew an agitation agenda and focus on constructive and exploratory activities. Some of the activities that the participants decided to take up are:

- Propagation of the Charkha to engender a healthy economic activity. Efforts from different participants focus on different contexts rural "urban, semi-urban, in homes for the physically and'" mentally handicapped "and, among the old, unemployed and "destitute.

- Establishment and promotion of weaving as a remunerative activity through innovative market structures -and creation, of a revolving fund to help, meet working-capital requirements of weavers.

- Cultivation and propagation of traditional varieties of cotton suited to specific micro-regions.

- Propagation of natural dyeing through simple recipes and cultivation of dye-bearing plants

- Work on innovations for make spinning wheel, looms etc., from easily available materials like bamboo.

- Conduct workshops to train those interested in learning traditional textile techniques.

- Technical experts many from research institutes, offered technical assistance in various areas like value added spinning and weaving, natural dyeing, traditional varieties of cotton their identification and propagation, documentation of textile techniques, tools and implements etc.

The following research projects are to be taken up by different members of the Working Group:

(1) Analysis of Government policies and their-impact on textile activity.

(2) Investigation into how the subsidy on 'Janata' cloth has ruined weavers in West Bengal.

(3) Documentation of impact of division between weavers and master-weavers.

(4) Study of the structure and organization of handloom weaving in traditional societies.

(5) Explore undocumented |traditions of natural dyeing.

(6) Create a comprehensive database on individuals and organizations working on textiles and related areas all over the country.

(7) Examine the nexus between synthetic fiber plants, mega projects (like big dams and nuclear power projects) and related policy-trends and evaluate their impact on traditional communities and the ecology.

(8) Uncover the role of bamboo and cloth in traditional society and their evolution in modern times. To enable members of the working group keep in touch and act cohesively, it was decided that a Newsletter would be brought out for internal circulation.


The Color of our Lives by KV.Chndramouti (A brief Handbook on Vegetable and Mineral Dyes).


1. An overview of Khadi : by Shri Sharma (Bombay)

2. Handlooms - A Status Report: by Dr.Swarnalatha (Hyderabad) (An exhaustive overview of the activity since time immemorial)

Contact Address:
L.Kannan PPST
Foundation P.B. No:2085
Adyar, Madras - 600 020.

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