At a time when people across the country are staying at home during the national lockdown amid novel coronavirus pandemic, a young man of Assam’s Udalguri district is investing his time to produce handloom products which most of the upcoming generation has forgotten or don’t get engaged in.

Though handloom industry is a sector dominanted by women, Lakhsyadhar Deka, an inhabitant of Bhuyankhat of Udalguri district bordering Darrang in his mid thirties is breaking stereotypes by weaving ‘mekhala chador’ in handlooms and has been giving his creativity a shape in the form of motifs and patterns of the mekhala chadors – a traditional favourite ethnic clothing of women of Assam.

Over the years, most traditional weaving techniques are slowly losing its sheen to power looms and most people, especially youngsters, are seldom seen to indulge in such traditional practices, posing threat to the existence of indigenous skills dying a slow death.

Deka in a relaxed atmosphere while sitting in the handloom in his home courtyard has been diligently focusing on the loom and producing bright coloured mekhala chadors and seems to be quite intrigued by various designs and motifs used in the  traditional attire.

Deka told this correspondent, “I have imbibed this skill from my elder sister Nirmali Deka whom I closely observed working in the loom during my childhood. It is my favourite past time and I only weave a couple of them for my relatives and family members and will produce a dozen during the lockdown.”

Deka believes handloom is a labour intensive sector and its products belong to the tradition of highly skilled activities that require long hours of painstaking manual labour.

“I feel the challenge is to create a market demand and wider reach for these products while ensuring economic viability, and a life of dignity for the unorganized handloom weaver communities.” Deka said.

Deka further reiterated that Assam’s handloom industry is deeply rooted in the socio-cultural traditions with a rich heritage of skills and talent that needs to be preserved, perpetuated and promoted and said that for the the handloom products to sustain the key lies in authentic classification, differentiation and labelling of handloom against  power loom products.

“In Assam, weaving is replete with artistic sensibility and intimately linked to folk life and traditional designs and motifs in the handloom products of the Assam have always sported a unique identity and charisma which have a booming global and national market we just need to train the weavers to keep themselves updated with technological advancement and tap the market,” said managing director of the Bodoland Regional Apex Weavers and Artisans Cooperative Federation Ltd (BRAWFED) N N Rana Patgiri.

Bapan Sarma a senior citizen of Udalguri said, “The young generation must not only get formal education but must also learn new skills in order to sustain themselves in the society and not be job seekers but job givers.”

Handloom weaving is widely practised in Northeast India and mostly engaged by women to practise their indigenous craft.

The looms have no permanent fixtures and it can be easily shifted to places as per the weaver’s convenience.

Shajid Khan

Shajid Khan is Northeast Now Correspondent in Udalguri. He can be reached at: itsshajidkhan@gmail.com