The tradition of weaving in different parts of India stands for more than just the preservation of age-old crafts and skills. Back in the day, it empowered the women, who were expected to stay at home and look after the family. The tradition was no different in the city of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. Many might recognise the name from the elegant and gorgeous Maheshwari silk that is the signature weave of this region. Back in 1978, when one of the longest standing NGOs of India, REHWA, reached out to these female weavers, little did they anticipate that their community would grow to what is now 40 years old and has a team of 68 weavers.
Besides upholding and highlighting handloom weaving and its unique imperfections, REHWA also supports its weavers holistically with education and healthcare to support their weavers. “What’s amazing about this particular time in fashion in India and the world is that the ‘handmade’ niche has really grown and that there is a segment of people who consciously wish to buy ethically sourced, responsibly made products with stories behind them,” observes Yeshwant Holkar who carries the legacy of his family forward in Maheshwari weaves and textiles.
However, the world is changing as we know it, and the Maheshwar is not alien to the impact of COVID-19 that has put the global economy on a standstill. It is no news that among the deeply affected are daily wage earners who face challenges both short-term and in the long run. While the weavers who work under masters weavers for orders from outside the town and even the country are practically left with no work, the ones under the umbrella of REHWA receive consistent support. “Weavers of Maheshwar associated with organisations like ours have people looking out for them, trying to get their basic needs looked after with campaigns for help in this time of need, but it is still a struggle. Many of REHWA’s weavers are sole breadwinners of large families, have difficult partners, so their stay at home is not an easy one,” says Holkar.
In an effort to build a support system that can sail the weavers and the REHWA as a whole through such testing times, it has set up a sponsorship program for the weavers wherein people can buy REHWA credit which will ensure that the weavers continue to receive their wages. This credit can be redeemed when one makes a purchase from REHWA after status quo is restored. And with an overwhelming response from both its long-time loyalists as well as people looking out for extending help in their own way, REHWA has raised 4 lakh rupees in four days. While that says a lot about the worldwide reverence for handloom and ancient weaving techniques of India, it is still a long way away from the 10 lakh rupees tat the society needs to support its staff for a month.
Here’s the link should you wish to get yourself REHWA credit for stunning Maheshwari sarees and supporting the craftspeople behind its making.