Weavers' woes

Print edition : April 28, 2001

Your Cover Story titled "Despair and death" (April 27) catalogues the woes of the weavers of Andhra Pradesh meticulously and with deep sensitivity. The situation was not an unanticipated one ever since we started intensifying "the policies of liberalisation and globalisation".

It is not as if the distress is confined to traditional weavers. Every segment of the textile industry, be it composite mills, powerlooms or handlooms, is passing through critical times. Eighty per cent of the government-owned National Textile Corporation (NTC) mills are known to be sick, many of them terminally, and 60 per cent of the mills in the private sector are approaching a moribund state.

Before we think of devising solutions to this problem, we have to understand some aspects of the functioning of the industry in a global setting. What exactly is 'modernisation', the buzzword? In the textile industry it has come to mean only automation, ever since a French silk weaver, Joseph M. Jacquard, came up with a punched-card coding system to automate - what in retrospect was in a limited way - the process of weaving, making it faster and more consistent. That was many years ago and today we have reached the stage where DuPont, the industrial behemoth, operates an artificial fibre factory in the United States that runs from start to finish by robotics. There is a joke making the rounds, about a visitor to a textile plant who found there just a man and a dog. He thought he understood the need for the man but why the dog? He got the reply: "The dog is there to make sure the man doesn't operate anything."

We are of course worried about automation putting a lot of people out of work and driving some of them to suicide as in Andhra Pradesh - and probably elsewhere too - but, as an intrepid observer sans merci in the industry said, "if we do not automate we shall all (emphasis added) be out of work". It is true that only by automation some parts of the industry have achieved manifold increases in productivity. An expert weaver in the handloom sector can pass a shuttle (say) about 20 times a minute but modern looms can do it thousands of times. That kind of competitiveness, thought as necessary for the industry, can only be achieved by massive investments, which India is trying to do in its efforts towards globalisation (or, is it globaloney?). One wonders whether we will gradually reach the stage when there will be no people working in the (fully automated) textile industry but we will still be in need for a lot of people to buy the goods so produced. What an irony!

The future seems to be bleak for the traditional artisan and weaver unless the government and the public deal with it as a human rights situation and not with the kind of insensitivity that is in evidence today.

Kangayam R. Rangaswamy Durham, U.S. * * *

At last the tragedy of our textile sector has found a place of importance in your magazine. It seems that we have lost something unique, the edge we once had in the world of textiles. Why do we allow this to happen in this globalised economy?

One billion people need a lot of cloth. To make the Indian textile industry a vibrant one, please join me and wear Indian cloth with joy and pride, before it is too late.

Juli Cariappa Halasur, Karnataka * * *

Hand-woven cotton or silk fabrics crafted to exotic designs in appealing colours will ever be in demand at home and abroad. We need to examine the entire handloom industry sympathetically - update the technology, organise weavers' cooperatives to infuse new production concepts, work on marketing organisation, and arrange low-interest financing. The wonderful art of handweaving, whether that in the plains using cotton or silk yarn or that in northeastern India or in Garhwal, Himachal Pradesh, or Jammu and Kashmir using exotic wool, must be developed, employing all the skills and tools available with modern science.

Commodore C.D. Pereira (Retd) Mangalore Exim Policy

Sukumar Muralidharan, in his write-up "Opening the floodgates" (April 27), has rightly touched on certain vital points. After the lifting of quantitative restrictions (QRs) we have seen two kind of responses, that are 180 degrees apart. One is from the consumers who perceive that probably all is going to be green from now: in fact a strange frenzy is brewing among the great Indian middle class. The other is from the industry, certain sections of which think that it is all over for them. But, as the writer has rightly pointed out, the euphoria may be ephemeral as with the flooding of the Indian market with foreign goods the Indian manufacturers will go on the backfoot, though only initially, and may slow down the output, which will have a direct bearing on the purchasing power of the great Indian middle class.

Whatever the government might say of its strategies, dumping, if we call it so, is going to happen and is inevitable. It will be the saddest way to cope with competition if we are going to block foreign goods from entering the Indian market just because they are cheaper than their Indian counterparts (whatever its implications might be in terms of loss to domestic industry). Could the government explain what an open market means?

In fact the government should rise to the occasion. If the Chinese can manufacture a product at such a low cost, why can't we?

The bottomline is that our competitors did their homework over the last few decades while we failed to do that. That is why we feel that we are vulnerable.

Ravinder Saini Hissar Film awards

This refers to the article "Of awards and rewards" (April 27).

Raveena Tandon has never campaigned for the BJP. Therefore the author's argument that it was a case of the BJP "rewarding its faithful" is invalid. The attack on Anil Kapoor is also unfair, as claiming that he is a BJP faithful because he "added new scenes to Pukar with a view to cashing in on the patriotic feelings generated during the Kargil War" is also an ambiguous connection at best.

You have not reflected the subsequent rebuttal by those such as Javed Akhtar of the allegations levelled by some members of the jury.

Deeptanshu Verma Washington Vedic astrology

While the argument against Vedic Astrology as a science subject for study is well presented (April 13), the article lacks something important - a definition of science. The title is "Degrees of pseudo-science", and the problem starts there. In numerous discussions at the layman's level I have heard people praising or pillorying proof offered by science. Science never proves anything. The power of science is in fact in its ability to make testable predictions and also in acknowledging its failures and accommodating corrections.

Given the varying perceptions of what science is, could I suggest that Frontline institute and support a discussion among scientists and non-scientists through its pages. Then perhaps people would really understand what science is and is not and place Vedic astrology in its proper place.

Raghuram Ekambaram New Delhi * * *

I have difficulty understanding the mindset of people like Praful Bidwai who, in their eagerness to attack Murli Manohar Joshi, miss one fundamental point. The Vedas contain a lot of wisdom and scientific/spiritual information. Unfortunately, because of the neglect of Sanskrit many of the gems are lost to us. We cringe when foreigners doing research in Sanskrit discover something (for instance, Reiki) and claim it as their own. Yet we seem reluctant to do anything about it.

We need not be ashamed of learning about our past through translation of the manuscripts in Sanskrit. It might give our youth a sense of belonging and an idea of their roots at a time when they are weaned away by crass materialism and the increasingly decadent lifestyle of the West. The problem is that many of our "intellectuals" seem happy to parrot ideas picked up from someone else's mind instead of exercising their own through introspection and analysis. Modernity clouds their judgment. "Isms" seem to determine their thinking rather than rationality.

While saffronisation per se is narrow-minded and bigoted, there are certain ideas that deserve serious investigation. There is no point in throwing the baby along with the bath water.

Dilip Mahanty Sydney A book on Partition

A.G. Noorani's review of my book ("Culture of coalition", April 13) was interesting to the point of being enlightening on how one ought (not) to write a book on the partition of India. Had the review been available to me prior to my writing the book (admittedly an impossibility) I might well have considered not writing the book out of deference to the review. However, on some crucial points, the reviewer gets things wrong, and it is just as well for me to point these out.

One, the partition of India was not just an agreement between the Congress and the Muslim League but a tripartite arrangement, with the colonial state constituting the third, and the most important, arm.

Two, Jinnah and Rajendra Prasad never arrived at a pact. They only tried to, unsuccessfully. And the effort was made in 1935, not in 1934.

Three, my thesis is not about Jinnah's antagonism towards the Congress. That forms a minor part of the book. It is essentially a description of the functioning of communal politics, both Hindu and Muslim, in U.P. during the crucial years, 1937-39. To reduce my book to Jinnah's antagonism towards the Congress is like treating Noorani's review as the entire issue of Frontline.

Four, I have devoted a whole chapter (pp.99-127, some 10,000 words) to the coalition controversy between the Congress and the Muslim League. To say that "it is not set out in Misra's book" is to suffer from an amnesia of an unexplainable variety.

Five, I have devoted no more than half a page (p.161) to Stanley Wolpert. I should leave it to the judgment of readers if that can possibly amount to my "relying on Stanley Wolpert's discredited book on Jinnah".

A historian's task is to construct the past on the basis of available evidence. The evidence gathered often does not speak for itself but has to be interpreted. The various statements and impressions of leaders (T.B. Sapru, for example) have to be analysed and interpreted, along with other sources and not accepted uncritically as truth. In fact, it is important not to take the contemporary actors in their self-image, but subject them to clinical and critical scrutiny. One small letter of Sapru is no more than a tiny drop in a huge ocean with multiple other drops flowing in different directions.

In the end, I must thank the reviewer for doing me the courtesy of calling my work "well researched". How I wish I could reciprocate with a similar compliment!

Salil Misra Indira Gandhi National Open University New Delhi

A.G. Noorani writes: My review praised the author's industry but faulted him for being "tendentious and... impassioned to a degree." Salil Misra's angry letter proves the criticism to the hilt. Specific instances of "selectivity" in the selection of sources were cited in the review. Not one is refuted. Stung by the citation of Wolpert's howlers, he runs for cover pleading that he had, after all, devoted but half a page and was not "relying" on him. That half page was full of extravagant praise, however. ("The strength of his book", "the real merit" of the book, "the forceful denunciation (sic) of the myth" that Jinnah did not want Pakistan, etc.) He prefers Wolpert's book, not surprisingly to Ayesha Jalal's classic The Sole Spokesman. It is too cerebral and analytical for Misra's taste. He offers no explanation for ignoring Marguerite Dove's book either. And Sapru matters not.

Jinnah and Prasad did agree on six points albeit as a basis for further discussion (1934 was a misprint for 1935): "It was agreed (in point 6) that joint electorates would replace separate electorates in all the provinces and in the centre." That was no small achievement. It was not followed up.

Misra should be happy - and surprised - his book received such notice and write another, better one. He should do better than come up with this reaction to my criticism.

The Ganga at Varanasi

The photograph shown on page 73 in the article "The receding Gangotri" (April 13) is that of the Ganga at Varanasi and not at Hardwar as mentioned in the caption.

Dr. Kailash Banasure Bareilly Correction
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