The Modi government has taken yet another step to make the government free from activists and experts who know how to pontificate without really making any impact on the ground. Just like the garden variety activist who pontificates about poverty in the slums while sitting in air-conditioned parties, the Handloom Board, which was abolished by a notification on the 27th of July, had ‘activists and experts’ who sat in Delhi, enjoying the social status of a prestigious position without really working with the weavers.
The move inspired some amount of outrage from expected quarters that wished to turn this into a move that supposedly hampered the growth of the industry and also the interests of the weavers. The loudest criticism came from ‘activist’ Laila Tyabji.
Who is Laila Tyabji and is her criticism valid?
Laila Tyabji is reportedly an Indian social worker, designer, writer, and craft activist. She is one of the founders of Dastkar, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization, working for the ‘revival of traditional crafts in India’. Unsurprisingly, she was awarded by the UPA government in 2012 with a Padma Shri.
Laila Tyabji, chairperson of Dastakar — a not-for-profit NGO working to support traditional Indian craftspeople – reacted to the decision and said: “Strange things happen quietly in COVID times – without even a whisper of warning. The news that the almost 70-year-old All India Handicrafts Board, established in 1952 by Pupul Jayakar and nurtured by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, has been abolished came as a complete surprise.”
Tyabji expressed her shock in a Facebook post. She wrote: “All these years on, it remained the one official forum, however, watered down, where the voices and views of weavers and craftspeople could be expressed directly. One place where representatives of the sector were present in considerable numbers and were actually empowered to advise the Government in policy and sectoral spending… The spaces where people themselves can interact directly with Government, or be part of their own governance, are certainly becoming leaner and increasingly few in number. It is worrying.”
Essentially, Laila Tyabji insinuated that the Handloom Board was the one true voice of the artisans and craftsperson and the abolition of the board meant that the government would work in isolation and not really hear the real voice of the people, christening herself as their representative.
It is important to note that people in the know say that the Handloom Board was nothing but a group of advisors who wished to pontificate without doing making a substantial impact. “The board has existed for 4 decades. What is their impact?”, an individual close to the board said. Essentially, the board was started to give political patronage to friendly faces by the previous regime and thus, served no substantial purpose in furthering the interests of the weavers over the past 4 decades.
The criticism that has come from Laila Tyabji gives one the impression that voices of the downtrodden, which were heard through these activists are now being suppressed by the government. However, did Laila Tyabji actually make any substantial impact while working with the ministry to give the Ministry the required inputs?
People in the know have now questioned the commitment of Laila herself citing another example. Vide on order in 2016 was passed for the up-gradation of Weavers Service Centres and for the creation for Design Resource Centres.
The composition of the committee was as under:
The composition of the committee was as under:
- (i) Ms. Laila Tyabji, Designer and founder of Dastkar, New Delhi.
- (ii) Ms. Jaya Jaitley, Founder & President of Dastkari Haat Samiti,New Delhi.
- (iii) Mr. Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Designer, Kolkata
- (iv) Mr. Gaurang Shah, Designer, Hyderabad
- (v) Ms. Anavila Misra, Designer, Mumbai
- (vi) D.C (Handlooms) (Ex-officio) – Member Convener
The 1st meeting of the committee was held on 08.11.2016 under the chairpersonship of Hon’ble Minister of Textiles, in which policy decisions regarding revamping of WSCs were taken. On the basis of inputs received from WSCs along with the requirement of additional physical infrastructure & manpower, a draft report was submitted by the expert committee. Thereafter, the 2nd meeting of the expert committee was held on 27.02.2017 for discussing the draft report and to make final recommendations for upgrading WSCs.
In the meeting, it was decided that the expert committee members shall indicate their preferences for visits to various WSCs and such visits will be facilitated by the ministry.
Interestingly, only Jaya Jaitley visited the WSC and submitted her report to the Ministry. Laila Tyabji, who is now outraging about the Handloom Board being abolished and that her work being the “voice of the voiceless” will be compromised, did not only not bother to visit any WSC but also did not bother to submit a report to the Ministry.
Thereafter, it was decided to abolish the board and work towards the upliftment of the weavers and craftsmen through NIFT.
The Modi government then decided to set up DRC in all 28 Weavers Service Centres (WSCs) through NIFT with the following objective:
• To build and create design-oriented excellence in the Handloom Sector.
• To facilitate weavers, exporters, manufacturers and designers for creating new designs.
According to sources, an amount of Rs 3.5 crores has already been released to NIFT to work with weavers within the framework of this program and students and faculty, together, would be working with the Ministry.
The same objectives that were meant to be met by the committee and the board is now working effectively through the NIIFT.
Thus, it is evident that Laila Tyabji herself was hardly interested in representing the voices of the downtrodden to the Ministry. If she was, she would have visited the WSC and given her inputs to the government.
What people said about the Handloom Board
Essentially, the Handloom Board was an advisory council that made little to no impact on the ground. The members thus used their position as a status symbol without really contributing to the development or welfare of the weavers through their position in the board.
Many in the know expressed their opinion on the board, however, wished to stay anonymous. One person in the know said, “How can they claim to be the voice of the weavers of Bhagalpur and several other areas sitting in their AC rooms in Delhi? None of them bothered to visit the weavers personally and they wish to pretend as if they were the sole voice of the downtrodden. This is just them being disgruntled at losing a ‘prestigious position’ that they can show-off in parties”.
Essentially, people in the know said that the Board was hardly of any consequence and more work is certainly being done after the Ministry’s association with NIFT as compared to the board giving “gyan” on what the weavers and artisans needed without even meeting them.
7th August 2020 marks the 6th National Handloom Day in India. August 7 was chosen as National Handloom Day to commemorate the Swadeshi Movement which was launched on this day in 1905 in the Calcutta Town hall to protest against the partition of Bengal by the British Government. The Handloom industry in India is of prime significance since it not only symbolises the culture of India but also gives employment to thousands of women.
The Modi government decided to abolish the much-hyped and ornamental Handloom Board. The notification to abolish the Handloom Board was issued on the 27th of July. The notification read, “‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’, leaner government machinery and the need for systematic rationalisation of government bodies, the Government of India have abolished All India Handloom Board with effect from the date of this resolution.”