Threads of Despair

Chendamangalam the GI mapped weaving centre deluged by the recent flood in Kerala, India.

Kerala Floods.

The Floods that ravaged Kerala in mid-August have completely ravaged the hamlet of Chendamangalam, known for its rich textile heritage.  The losses have been pegged at Rs 15 crores*, leaving over 350 weavers and allied workers unemployed and disheartened – their looms, yarn, material and stock were completely soaked and are in a state beyond repair.

The traditional weaving centre with a geographical indication tag has been languishing over the decades but the floods have brought it to a standstill. 90% of the workforce are women, a majority above the age of 50, and in many cases the single earning member in the family. 

The looms here have the unique reputation of having facilities for weaving finer count cotton combed yarn (of 120s, 100s and 80s) which is a rarity across most clusters in India today. Kerala is facing its worst crisis in over a century. Heavy rainfall in August and consequent flooding saw most parts of the state devastated  with close to 500 deaths, and an accumulated loses mounting over Rs 20,000 crores (US $3 billion).

Government reports suggest that one-sixth of the total population of the state has been directly affected and impacted by the flood and related incidents. The state and its people have been terribly hit and the process of rebuilding Kerala to its lost glory is an arduous task.

The losses are pegged at Rs.15 crores*, and the over 300 weavers jobless with their looms, yarns, stock and material completely soaked and beyond repair.

The rain affected most weaving centres. Chendamangalam (situated in Ernakulam district) is a rare geographical combination of three rivers, seven inlets, hillocks and vast expanses of green plains. Water and rains are not new to the citizens here, but what came knocking on the night of August 14 was unimaginable.

The handloom units at Karimbadam and Kuryappilli areas have suffered major damages. Flood waters had entered all the units, destroying products worth lakhs of rupees, weaving equipment, furniture and thread. Thread worth Rs 39 lakhs* was damaged in the godown of the yarn bank at Karimbadam. The central dyeing unit, too, has been completely destroyed.

The Voices.

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It will take at least five to six months to repair the looms. Weavers won’t have any work till the looms are repaired. Unlike other sectors, weavers have been affected the worst as all raw material and looms are lost. We don’t know whether weavers will repair their looms and continue with weaving. Aid from the government and other organisations is required urgently to save the Chendamangalam handloom industry from extinction. At least Rs 40,000 will be required to repair each loom.

Sojan P A, Secretary, Chendamangalam Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society

It was the peak season time for us. Around 80 percent of sales for the handloom sector takes places during Onam season. The famed Chendamangalam Handloom earned more than Rs 7 crore during the last Onam season. This year, sales could not touch a margin of Rs 1 crore – even after Onam. In the floods, two of the weavers’ cooperative societies-run manufacturing units were completely washed off and stocks for the Onam sale are lying inundated.

TS Baby, President, Paravoor Handloom Weavers Service Cooperative Society and state committee member of Handloom Employees Union

I have been a handloom weaver since I was 10. Earlier, I used to work in mills. After marriage, we installed two looms in our house which were used by my wife and I on August 15, the water level increased suddenly and we had to leave the entire looms behind and shift to relief camps. After returning, it was a heart breaking scene. Two looms are damaged completely. Yarns are drenched in water. We don’t know whether they can be repaired.

80-year-old V P Rajan and wife Thankamani, natives of Karimpadam

The Loss.

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The massive loss to Chendamangalam weaving societies in the floods have been painstakingly documented and surveyed. District Industries Centre of Kerala Government has taken stock of the situation and have submitted a report. The report details the loss to the looms, the working sheds, yarn, and material and has put the immediate loss at Rs 4.03 crores. The societies and analysts have arrived at the total damage estimation at Rs 15 crores looking at post flood recovery time, direct and indirect loss to the trade.

  • The yarn bank is estimated to have suffered damage worth Rs 39 lakhs Rs.10 lakh worth yarn for manufacturing school uniforms was lost to floodwater.
  • Chendamanagalm HCWS 47 suffered damaged to goods worth Rs 85 lakhs.
  • Total flood affected looms: 273
  • The break up is as follows : H47 – 99 looms , H191- 49, H 3428 – 54 , H E (1) – 41 and 30 odd looms spread across other societies.
  • As cotton yarn gets damaged from water, it cannot be used.

If the sector is not revived timely, it would mean the death of this traditional craft, which recently got the GI (Geographical Indication) tag. The flood has left nothing in showrooms, handlooms and dyeing units.

* All statistics are as per the reports and government statistics.