Challenges before Sualkuchi silk industry
(Published in Eastern Chronicle on dated 09-03-2014 at Editorial Page)
By Dr. Devajit Mahanta (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
The hand-woven silk fabric of Sualkuchi on Muga and Mulbery occupies a place of eminence in preserving the Assam heritage and culture and plays a vital role in economy of Assam. To enhance the livelihood of a sizeable population and also to create a new brand for Sualkuchi silk, the government should initiate intensive training programme on research and development for product diversification and design innovation. So far Government subsidies for the silk project and marketing schemes to develop the silk industry have hardly influenced the weavers to give up the traditional methods of weaving. The article try to throw light on the nitty gritties of Sualkuchi silk industry and an attempt to clear issues which may be inherent to villagers.
Sualkuchi is about 35 kilometers from Guwahati, spread over an area of 12 square kilometer, four kilometer from East to West and three kilometer from North to South has a population of nearly 50,000 people situated on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra. There is large number of cottage handloom industries for which it is also known as the "Manchester of Assam". On January 9, 1946 Mahatma Gandhi went to Sualkuchi to ask people to weave their clothes instead of buying but when he saw that every family had a loom he said, “Women of Assam can weave dream on their looms.” Former president of India, missile man Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam visited Sualkuchi on 17th October 2006 and mesmerized with the amazing beauty of magical cloth.
The hand-woven silk fabric of Sualkuchi on Muga and Mulbery occupies a place of eminence in preserving the Assam heritage and culture and plays a vital role in economy of Assam. Sualkuchi silk comprises three major type’s muga silk, pat silk and eri silk. Muga is the golden fiber of Assam which is available only in North-East part of India. Sualkuchi alone contributes 75 percent of the total production of Muga in the country. Some popularly known articles of Muga are mekhela sadar, riha, saree etc. With the change of trend nowadays muga is used in making salware, wallet, kurta, jacket, neck tie and also dress materials for designers. Pat silk are the finer varieties of silk and a costly silk to afford for all people. Sualkuchi is also known for its Pat silk. About 2,00,000 kg pat threads are used in manufacturing fabrics in Sualkuchi. Eri silk is made by Samia cynthia ricini which feed on leaves of Castor oil plant. It is also known as Endi or Errandi silk. In Sualkuchi the raw materials of mulberry silk and other silks are basically supplied from Karnataka and Tamilnadu. The weavers have generally become dependent on the intermediary thread suppliers who buy the threads from China.
The Sualkuchi Silk, the queen of all fabrics, is historically one of India’s most important industries which employ most of the villager’s families. The wages of the weavers have increased from Rs. 600 to Rs. 1000 in 1981 to Rs. 1900 to Rs. 2000 in 1999 to Rs. 4000 to Rs. 6000 in 2012. Sualkuchi is a place where the ‘labors’ (weavers) are given monetary advance and normally booked for a year. According to Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project report the migrant weavers have also created the problems of housing them. Majority of the factory owners have little space to provide shelters to the weavers. The migrant weavers mainly come from Bodo community as well as Assamese and Karbi community. Most of the workers stay in some rented houses constructed by some land lords for the purpose. The migration of female weavers is indicating several aspects of socio-economic life of people. These weavers keep on changing factories in search of high wage
Apart from employment, the Sualkuchi silk industry is also a good foreign exchange earner. India exports silk goods worth over Rs 5,100 crore mostly to the Unites States of America and the European Union. The artisans of Sualkuchi should now try to increase their value added handicrafts product range and establish links with reputed international design and research institutions.
To enhance the livelihood of a sizeable population and also to create a new brand for Sualkuchi silk, the government should initiate intensive training programme on research and development for product diversification and design innovation.
The muga silk of Assam has been registered as the Geographical Indication (GI) of Assam under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. GI confers the muga silk legal protection to Geographical Indication in India and world over, prevents unauthorized use of a registered GI by others, boosts exports and promotes economic prosperity of producers of goods produced in a geographical territory.
But the Government subsidies for silk project and marketing schemes to develop silk industry there have hardly influenced the weavers to give up the traditional methods of weaving. The existence of mahajans at Sualkuchi has made it a difficult task for the weavers to establish self-help groups. These mahajans own a large number of looms and provide employment to the weavers. Apart from that they lend money to weavers to operate the looms. Thus weavers have no control over their cash inflow. To keeping away the middlemen and mahajans from the entire cycle, the yarn bank and auction market should be further developed for the benefit of the weavers.
Also the industry is facing a big challenge from the China which is dumping their silk products to India at rates much below their production cost. So there is urgent need to modernize the industry by inducting more efficient machines and power looms if it is to compete with the silk produced in China. After the fighting for a foothold in the international markets by fending off the Chinese companies, the global economic meltdown now seems to be playing spoilsport as the exports have gone down considerably.
Lack of consistency in production, neglect of marketing linkages, low end technology use and reluctance to use costlier technologies due to fears that there might not be corresponding improvement in price realizations are the reasons causing imbalance between the demand and supply position in the domestic silk market. Due to such serious problems for which the pride of Assam may go extinct if proper measures are not taken by the State Authority without delay.