We will not be wrong to say that in almost every state of India the weaving community of the region has excelled in a weave that they specialise in and is available in that geography only. What is even more interesting to note is how smaller communities have their own traditions or reasons for wearing certain garments. Leading to a thriving community of weavers in that particular geography who produce garments to cater to these unique needs and are thus gainfully employed.
But what happens when ideas and opinions change? What happens when ancient cultures and ideas are moulded to fit the beliefs and preferences of an alien Western thought? How does that impact communities and economies?
Here is the story of one such handloom - Kasota, a loin cloth/langot worn by males of the tribal communities in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
The Kasota gave them a sense of freedom and flexibility but with the advent of mill-made clothes and to fit into society's standards of ‘normal’, they have been made to believe that it is immoral to wear something like this in society.
This has led to the tribal belt, which otherwise wore these handcrafted langots while tilling the fields or while running errands, shifting to machine-made briefs due to which the weavers here have left weaving and shifted to manual labour.
‘We have no business, that is why we do this work, we have nothing else to depend on, neither land nor property. To make ends meet we stretch the money we earn from this work to the maximum’, says Ratnabhai Vankar, a weaver from Moti Tokri, Gujarat. Vankar who is amongst the last few weavers who know how to and still weave the traditional Kasota.
Kasota, or Kuste, means to tie tightly. This cloth is made on a pit loom, which helps in the breathability of the fabric and controls the moisture in the yarn.
Since the tribal farmers no longer wear it, this craft has almost died. But the weavers who create this fabric are highly skilled and are leaving this craft for menial labour work.
Very often when a weaver who sits in the comfort of his home and is his own boss is now forced to leave this profession and is forced to take up odd jobs, one ends up losing his self-esteem. This happens often because they are not treated very nicely when under some contractor for whom they are just a herd of labourers. One is easily replaced by the other in this country which has no dearth of cheap labour.
The deft skill of the weaver is now lost and the traditional knowledge system of weaving the cloth is also lost because there is no transfer of knowledge to the next generation.
At such a stage, it is very important that the craft has to become relevant to its times, just to survive. Maybe the Adivasis do not require wearing langots anymore. But this rich craft is a unique handloom that can certainly be fashioned for other end uses. This safeguards the craft and the livelihood of the weaving community who have thrived on weaving so far. An organisation called Bhasha has been working with these weavers to create new products using the Kasota and is also getting new markets for them.
This crucial intervention for the weaving community has come at the right juncture. There is a small ray of hope that the textile used for Kasota will not fade away, it will still be available in some other form in the markets.
There are countless such textiles that used to thrive in the nooks and corners of India, which have faded away with time. Sadly, some of these rare textiles may not even have made it to Indian museums, let alone written documentation of the techniques to produce some fine textiles.
India has the potential to position its handloom textiles as its next soft power, just like yoga, to a global audience that has been in awe of the Indian handloom dexterity since time immemorial.