With advanced power looms dominating the textile industry today, handloom weaving is almost a lost art. It probably survives only in a handful of rural pockets of India, where technology and consumerism have not yet whitewashed the finesse in some old hands. 1010 Colony in Erode, Tamil Nadu was a village where a thousand and ten weaver families were known for their expertise in hand-weaving the finest dhotis or sarees. Around two decades ago, the deafening mechanical groan of power looms overpowered the rhythmic clacking of handlooms. Nurpu Handlooms is trying to revive handloom-weaving in 1010 Colony since 2016.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
Weavers, who opted for working with textile factories, soon found themselves stripped of their respect and dignity, living like a machine to support their families. Around two years ago, a young man emerged as a messiah among these handloom weavers. Through his sustainable venture Nurpu Handlooms, former IT-professional Sivagurunathan is trying to revive handloom-weaving in 1010 Colony since 2016. Moreover, his main aim is to offer a life of dignity to these weavers who once sold their freedom to business giants.
Meeting with Shivaraj from Cuckoo School
The humble, optimistic founder of Nurpu Handlooms owes a lot to his cherished encounter with Shivaraj from Cuckoo Forest School. “When I met Shivaraj Anna, his personality and his words inspired me. He used to send me stories about Mahatma Gandhi’s life, reading which changed me completely,” shares Sivagurunathan. “All along my life, my only goal was to have a life of luxury, own a BMW car perhaps. But after meeting Shivaraj Anna and knowing about Gandhi, I felt the urge to serve others instead,” he adds.
With an aim in mind, Sivagurunathan used to have long discussions with Shivaraj about the rural development principles of Gandhi and J.C. Kumarappa. Confused where to start, finally, he decided to work with the silent sufferers – the weavers of 1010 Colony.
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Sivagurunathan recounts his childhood memories of growing up in a family of weavers, where his grandfather and father had traditionally upheld the art of weaving in handlooms. “I remember having an excessive curiosity about the ‘shuttle’ in the handloom. The more my grandfather forbade me to touch it, the more interested I would become,” he shares with Efforts For Good.
He was the only person in his family to pursue a career away from his roots because his parents feared the deteriorating finances and social status of handloom weavers would affect prospects of his career. “My family gave up handloom weaving to run a wholesale business as the later was more profitable. So, when they learnt about me quitting my job for weaving, naturally, they were apprehensive at first,” he narrates.
When Sivagurunathan decided to work for the handloom weavers, he travelled through villages in Erode for months to understand their present condition. In fact, he himself has now learnt handloom-weaving for becoming one among the weavers.
The plight of the artisans
The celebrated weavers, whose craftsmanship once shone in the beautifully woven silk thread motifs in sarees, were now living like mere labourers, producing coarse towels and doormats.
The textile companies send private buses to their doorsteps to pick them up, making the job look highly rewarding to the family members. However, the next part of the story is quite heartbreaking. “Once they enter the factory premises, they are forced to surrender their wallets and mobile phones to the employers for eight hours,” Sivagurunathan reveals. During these eight hours of relentless, backbreaking labour, if someone gets a call even if that is an emergency, he would have no clue until the end of the day. “Even if my wife dies, I would not know it,” Sivagurunathan remembers one weaver telling him.
“When I started Nurpu Handlooms in 2016, nobody was ready to trust me. It was hard for them to believe that someone has quit their high-paying corporate job only to help the weavers. It took me time and a lot of effort, but slowly I have gained their faith,” Sivagurunathan shares.
With the help of Nurpu, the weavers have resumed handloom weaving in their own homes. Sivagurunathan ensures that they earn the same rates as they do from the textile mills. But the major difference is the respect that Nurpu gives them. Now they can work in the comfort of their homes, without undergoing stress and being exploited by employers.
Marketing was a big hiccup for Nurpu initially, but the dynamic founder ran from one exhibition to another, while attending to enquiries on his Facebook page, to spread the word about Nurpu. Initially, orders were few but these artisans never compromised on quality or craftsmanship. “We are getting a lot more orders. Not only our weavers and me, but my family is also happy about me now,” he smiles.
The sustainability factor
All the clothing items woven with love at Nurpu are made from locally-produced cotton yarn. There are no chemicals, and the dyes used are all made the old-school way, from natural flowers, fruits, seeds or leaves. The sale of completely organic Nurpu sarees, dhotis, dupattas, shirts, towels and stoles are quickly picking up among conscious buyers, given their extremely reasonable price ranges.
Being a handloom weaving teacher
Most of the craftsmen at Nurpu are around fifty years or more. So, there is the possibility of the art of handloom weaving dying with them. But, Sivagurunathan is determined to ensure that does not happen. “My ultimate aim is to be a weaving teacher at Cuckoo Forest School. I wish to teach this noble art to the future citizens,” he reveals.
Efforts For Good applauds this incredible effort by Sivagurunathan and hopes the nation sees more such young selfless social workers like him.
A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.
My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.
About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss.
My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.
However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.
Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.
As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.
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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed.
This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.
What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation.
Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.
Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds.
Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma?
First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.
Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB?
The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment.
Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.
A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.