Dubbaka, a sleepy town in Siddipet district, has turned into a death bed, if one may use that analogy, for most of the handloom weavers in the town. An estimate points out that more than 500 weavers lost their lives either because of starvation or suicide. The town had once been a large centre of handlooms. The decline over the years, has been sharp; from lakhs in 1980s to thousands in 1990s and now not more than a few hundreds. And these looms were once working round the clock.
The areas like Lacchapet, Ramakkapet, Habsipur, Chittapur, Dharmajipet, Mote, Challapur and Dumpanapalli are among the largest weaving sectors in the town. It is said that earlier, these areas put together would notch up a turnover of several lakhs a year. And traders from the neighbouring state of Odhisha would make a bee-line to the town to place orders.
As the prices of the yarn and raw materials shot up, the price of the handloom cloth also went up, thus worsening the situation for the weavers. Many of the people stopped buying clothes made of handloom, which impacted the weavers, causing huge losses to them. They got sucked into debts and were also left with unsold clothes . Worse, they received no support or financial aid from the government.
Marginalised by government policies, and pushed into the vortex of unemployment, debt and starvation, handloom weavers have been driven to death. But the state government has not put out any figure. The administration's reaction would seem to be marked by callousness and indifference. Politicians tend to observe, "the handloom owners must be discouraged from committing suicide as they do it only after getting into a financial mess."
Meanwhile, weavers continue to end their lives, unable to provide a square meal for the members of their families. Reports of poverty, starvation and death come in not only from the drought-prone northern Telangana districts, but elsewhere too. The official response to this stark reality is quibbling: "Check if ration has not been utilized by the family", or "if they are really starvation deaths, then women and children should have died first!"
The real villains of the piece are the successive governments at the Centre, or, more specifically, their textile policies. The textile policies since 1985, which seek to liberalise, modernise and privatise the industry, have systematically marginalized over 40 lakh handloom weavers who used to produce over 400 crore metres of cloth every year.
Unable to clear the rising debts, most of the handloom weavers ended their lives by consuming nitrate which is used to add colour to the fabric. With the suicides increasing, the local people have started packing the nitrate in bags, dumping them in a room without access to the weavers.
For the weavers, the bad times started in the mid-1980s and the situation deteriorated by the mid-1990s. Several government schemes had been set up for the handloom weavers, but were not implemented efficiently. The people in the town even failed to get the ex-gratia sanctioned by the government for the bereaved families.
Today there are barely a few hundred looms seen in the town with very few people working on it. The weavers get an amount of Rs 120 for weaving a saree, which takes at least two days to weave. With their products becoming uncompetitive in the market, stocks mounted, availability of work began to decline and the weavers faced joblessness, mounting debt, starvation and, consequently, death.
Now, the situation has turned to be better as the Telangana government has taken up the cause of the welfare of the handloom sector. The government also waived the loans of the workers for the year 2012-13. Moreover, there have been measures taken up by the Telangana textiles minister K T Rama Rao to modernize the handlooms and effectively market their products so that people will buy them. As part of the exercise, he had persuaded Tollywood actress Samantha to become the brand ambassador. The actress too has taken up the cause and has already conducted a fashion show in Hyderabad promoting Dubbaka handlooms. Hopefully this will revive the handlooms of Dubbakka