Smriti Irani’s handloom high


Smriti Irani’s handloom high

On Monday—exactly seven days before the first anniversary of National Handloom Day that will be celebrated in Varanasi with sensitively tailored rhetoric and made to order political ritual, even a museum announcement if reports are to be believed—minister of textiles Smriti Irani launched a social media campaign #ILoveHandloom. She wore a handloom sari, got a picture taken, tweeted it, tagging five like-minded people/organizations. Every forward tweet then tagged five more people.

It flew fast and with it Irani is back. Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI), presumably pre-primed to fly wing in wing, promptly put it up on its Facebook page and its president, Sunil Sethi, an established handloom lover usually dressed in hand-woven bandhgalas, tweeted not one but three images wearing Rajesh Pratap and Rohit Bal. “I wear handloom to work; I wear handloom in the evenings and I love handloom for formal occasions.” Twitteratti put on jogging shoes, some handloom garb and ran with it.

A wide variety of people, men and women, sari wearers and salwar kameez devotees to kurta-jeans types, dancers to RJs, khadi enthusiasts, cricketer Virendra Sehwag, boxer Vijender Singh, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, even ministers Sushma Swaraj, Maneka Gandhi and Ruchira Kamboj, the permanent ambassador of India to Unesco in Paris, joined in. Earnestly. Kamboj posted her images in a bunch of lovely saris, while actors Manoj Bajpai and Vidya Balan retweeted Sethi’s images with happy comments. Facebook pages glowed with “likes” and even 12 hours after Irani’s first tweet, the #I Wear Handloom was still trending.

According to the minister’s office, the campaign made over 51 lakh impressions with over 58,000 interactions on Facebook in less than 24 hours. On Twitter, the campaign’s reach has been 1.55 crore with 2.17 crore impressions of the tag—#iwearhandloom

Right choice, right time, right words, especially as the Handloom high has indeed begun gaining momentum and finding a space, even if tiny, in many lives. More Indians seek a clearer visual identity and handlooms feel emotionally right and are economically promising. That’s why across board—urban, fashionable, young, elite, idealistic, jholawala—#I Wear Handloom caught the pulse. Why, let’s ask. One is the choice of words—while “I love handlooms” could have looked like political posturing; I Wear Handlooms denotes choice; those who say this are already converted to handlooms.

That’s hefty reiteration. Heightened local demand and more consumption is what the Indian handloom industry needs, not just more people to play the band and the bajaa. Handloom love is about doing, not gushing.

Two, and this is politically resounding—the ministry of textiles oversees a super set—yarn, fibre, various silk and cotton quality hallmarks, handlooms as well as synthetic and power loom textiles. Yet, for the minister to choose “handloom” over power loom reveals timely and clear prioritisation, the need of the hour. It should ring a resonating bell in the minds of the handloom lobby that had become sceptical about being on the wrong side of the ministry’s notice after the hullabaloo last year on reports that the Handloom Reservation Act, 1985 may be amended or scrapped.

Similarly, for the power loom lobby to figure out where it may stand in the pecking order, even as its existence is crucial and linked to India’s garment industry.

So, the question today over Starbucks coffee and mango sticky rice is: “So do you wear handlooms?” Mint’s answer is an easy yes.