KhatKhata Dindori Project
Handloom history in India can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization. Several eras of Indian history were founded on the flourishing trade of some of the world’s most beautiful textiles. However, in more recent decades, several factors have imperiled the livelihoods of the handloom weavers in various handloom clusters of India. These include:
- Large-scale industrial weaving
- Power looms
- Insufficient financial infrastructure
- Difficulties attaining raw material
- Exploitation at the hands of the middlemen
- Corrupt practices in the handloom cooperatives
The Dindori district in MP is one such cluster where weaving has been affected by the factors listed above. Today, the weaving in this area is limited to fewer than 15 villages with not more than 10 weavers per village. Yet in the past, handloom weaving was the principal source of livelihood for the families of Panika (OBC), Jhariya (SC) and Chandrawanshi (OBC) communities of this area.
What we do in Dindori and why?
WomenWeave has initiated a handloom weaving revival project to create economic opportunities for artisans where the handloom craft is in marginal or at-risk stages. WomenWeave started this first revival project in February 2010 with 40 weavers in the Bajag area of Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh along with the hand spinning intervention.
WW’s KhatKhata project operates in villages identified as having ancient weaving practices. Their handlooms and other equipment like reeds which are as old as the textile weaving technique. Weavers were using ten-count mill-spun cotton yarn both in warp and weft. Only men were doing the weaving and women were helping in the preparatory work without knowing how to weave.
They buy the raw material from the local traders of Bajag and from the market of Gadasarai. They sell the finished products to the local traders who eventually sell the products in the haat (weekly markets) of Chada, Dhurkuta and Padripaani of Bagiachak. All of these markets are within or near the weaving villages.
Women’s Empowerment: Changing the gender relations of production in Dindori
It has been observed that some men were leaving the weaving profession whenever they found other work (even less well-paid jobs) as weaving requires full days of sitting in one place and these men prefer more mobility. Therefore, the project started involving women in the weaving: this progression is the first time in the weaving history of the area where women are also weaving.
Potential Impacts of the Project:
A hand-spinning unit has also been initiated with 13 women of the tribal community so that more people can receive regular employment. Importantly, WW has identified the area as one with high migration to urban locations. Re-establishing the handloom weaving sector here can have a significant impact.
WW and the community aim to initiate natural dyeing, which is currently viewed by customers as a high-value textile characteristic. Sustainable harvesting is feasible in this district, as the entire area is forested. Also, many tribal farmers cultivate Mulberry trees for raising mulberry silk moths which can become a good source of fiber for yarn that could be used locally by the weavers and thus greater synergy between the farmers, spinners and with weavers can be established.
Shifting Markets for Dindori’s Handloom
Traditionally, the Baiga tribe is the primary buyer for all the woven products by the local weavers, but in recent times they have been only buying these hand-woven products at the time of marriages and other important rituals. This shift has caused a significant decline in production from the weavers’ side. Along with this situation, the low financial liquidity of weavers with no access to yarn on credit purchase has also hampered the overall production. These conditions resulted in only two months of weaving work in a year. During the remaining months of the year, they work as agricultural labourers, where they receive fewer wages per day than handloom work. These traditional weavers use a poor quality of cotton yarn to reduce the cost of production, but this practice restricts them from entering the growing high-value market for handwoven textiles. Also problematic is that their dyed yarns have poor colour fastness.
Impacts of the Dindori Project
More than 35 traditional weavers have joined the project since its inception. Various interventions have taken place: exploring weaving possibilities, new product development, the introduction of varieties of yarns in finer counts and better dyes.,
It has been decided through a cooperative and community-based process that the weaving skills and aesthetics of the traditional weavers, i. e. Ochha, particularly the unusual technique of floating warp and weft threads will remain at the center of all the developments.