The famous Ilkal saree — which Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had worn for her Budget Day speech in February — comes from its namesake village in Bagalkote district, where weavers’ problems have fallen on deaf ears of national parties, forcing a seer of community math and the AAP to enter the fray.
Ilkal village falls under the Hungund Assembly constituency and manufactures the maximum number of sarees in the entire district. Bagalkote, Badami and Terdal are other Assembly segments where the traditional sarees are also produced.
There are a total of six Assembly constituencies in Bagalkote district. In 2018, BJP won five seats, while Congress captured one in Badami where former chief minister Siddaramaiah emerged victorious.
Interestingly, this time Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Nagaraj Hongal — a 55-year-old belonging to a weavers’ community and fighting for the cause of weavers since 2005 as journalist-cum activist — is contesting from the Hungund seat.
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Whereas from the Terdal Assembly segment, Jagadguru Shivshankara Shivacharya Swamiji of Kuruhinashetti Peetha is in the fray as Independent candidate on weavers’ request after both ruling BJP and principal opposition Congress denied a ticket to candidates from the weavers’ community.
The triangular fight is going to be interesting to watch in these two constituencies as both candidates are trying to make a mark as first-time contestants knowing well that they don’t have huge funds and machinery to woo votes like leaders from the national parties. The people of the community and family members are helping the candidates in the electioneering.
Listing out the challenges of weavers in Ilkal village, the AAP candidate said an increase in the cost of production and lower returns, high power bills despite giving electricity free up to 5HP, lack of access to subsidised loan directly to individual weavers, and marketing are some of the key concerns.
For instance, the government provides subsidised loans to handloom weavers through the District Cooperative Central (DCC) Bank. However, the bank is giving loans to those who are members of a cooperative.
”There are only 8 per cent of the weavers who are members of a cooperative weavers society, the rest are individual weavers. The subsidised loans are not given directly to individual weavers,” he pointed out.
The other issue is about marketing the product, Hongal said, adding the demand for Ilkal saree is only for three months in a year during Diwali and wedding season. There is no brisk business for the rest of the year that proves to be a dampener for the weavers.
The AAP candidate said weavers cannot hold their stock and a demand to create a revolving fund for weavers has not yet been implemented.
As a result, many have shifted from handloom to powerloom. In Ilkal village alone, there are about 2,000-odd powerlooms and only around 500 handlooms, he added.
According to powerloom weaver Thipanna Vannappamar: ”We hardly get any returns as raw material cost has risen significantly in the last few years.” The profit is only Rs 30-50 on one piece of pure cotton saree. In the powerloom, two to three sarees are made in a day. For example, a weaver sells a pure cotton Ilkal saree at Rs 800, which wholesalers market at Rs 1,200 and retailers at Rs 1,400, he added.
Stating that social media has helped popularise the Ilkal saree in recent times, wholesaler Vijay Kumar Guled said there is demand for the traditional sarees but the production is not sufficient.
”Weavers are not able to expand their production as they find it hard to get subsidised loans. Parents also don’t encourage the younger generation to take up weaving due to socio-political reasons as it has become difficult to get a bridegroom for a weaver’s son,” he said.
It is to be seen if the weavers community will unite and vote for these candidates on May 10.