K Lamlee Kamei, director, Handloom & Textiles department, Manipur, is not happy with the mass production of traditional cloth Leirum Phee in Uttar Pradesh. He has requested the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, to take necessary steps to safeguard Manipur’s traditional design and the livelihood of local weavers.
Hindustan Times stated that in a letter written to the Ministry of Textiles, Manipur’s Handloom & Textiles department said that ‘Leirum Phee’ designed as ‘Lengyan’ or muffler has cultural, historical and emotional value. The department has also started the process of getting a Geographical Indication (GI) tag for ‘Phee,’ which means cloth in the Meitei language of Manipur.
Popularized as Modi’s Gamcha
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore Leirum Phee for the first time in public during his Independence day speech on 15th August 2019. He also wore it during his address to the nation on 14th April 2020 when he announced the lockdown extension due to Covid-19. On 31st May 2020, Economic Times tweeted a video in which they showed weavers from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh, producing Leirum Phee to sell on e-commerce platforms. The news attracted backlash from the people of Manipur across social media. Many users expressed their displeasure on Twitter.
Dear @narendramodi @PMOIndia this traditional lengyan phi is handwoven in Manipur giving livelihood to many women of rural Manipur. This is unacceptable. Are we becoming China? Every thing cannot be copy pasted. This is a sincere request. Please https://t.co/THJIE4jdXF— Northeast_waali (@chekla) May 30, 2020
History of Leirum Phee
It is believed that the production of ‘Leirum Phee’ was started during the reign of King Loyumba, who ruled Manipur during 1074-1112 AD. It is traditionally woven on a handloom and has a significant role during wedding ceremonies of the Meitei community. In 2004, the state government started using it on every social and cultural event. It was officially used in the first India ASEAN Motor Car Rally in 2004.
Leirum Phee’s mass production caused outrage
After the video emerged and several media agencies picked up the news of Leirum Phee’s mass production in the state of Uttar Pradesh, many people outraged on social media. One user tagged Narendra Modi and stated that it is unacceptable to mass-produce Lengyan as it is a source of livelihood or many women in Rural Manipur. Civil bodies of Manipur, like the ACOAM-Lup, Kangleipak, AMESCO, and HERICOUN, among others, have criticized the government of Manipur for not taking the required steps to get GI tag for the traditional ‘muffler.’
I don’t understand the problem here?— Bhanu (@bhanuvachan) May 30, 2020
We all know that this design is Manipuri, but it can be produced anywhere.. You should be happy that the design is getting so popular.
On the other hand, some users supported mass production, stating it will popularize the traditional cloth and there is no harm if weavers from other states pick up the design.