A majority of the 3,000 looms in the Kaithoon municipality of Kota district in Rajasthan where the famed Kota Doria sarees are woven have come to a standstill. A few that are still being operated will stop in the coming days. It is the same story in the small towns of Bundi and Baran districts, where also these sarees are woven, mostly by women who learnt the trade from their mothers.

There is no saying when the looms will be operated again. The weavers have run out of yarn, and they will need to wait till the nation-wide lockdown is lifted and free movement of goods allowed across state borders. Kota Doria sarees are unique for the chequered pattern of weaves and the blending of silk and cotton yarn to produce a light and gossamer-like fabric. Yarn and zari for the sarees are sourced from different parts of the country – the silk yarn from Bengaluru, the cotton ones from Coimbatore and Ahmedabad and zari from Surat.

No cash, no yarn

The lifting of the lockdown, however, will not mean that activity will pick up immediately. The weavers have run out of cash and have a large stock of sarees with them, which they could not send to bulk buyers, large retail stores or take to the exhibitions. The lockdown came at an inopportune time for the Kota Doria weavers – their sarees are usually very popular during the summer wedding season, particularly in parts of south India. They have mostly lost that market.

It also does not help the weavers that bulk buyers who had picked up sarees before the lockdown are holding unsold stocks and therefore have made only part payment or not paid at all.

Until the weavers get paid, they are in no position to buy hanks of yarn and zari and get the yarn dyed and start the cycle again. They fear a poor season for several months, as the weaving activity slows when the monsoon arrives.

Large stocks, no buyers

Says Badrun Nisha, a weaver from Kaithoon and secretary of the Kota Women Weavers Organisation, “Some buyers called to say that they may return the sarees that they had picked up much before the lockdown since they cannot sell them.” That will be disastrous for the weavers who are already holding a large stock of sarees woven in the past couple of months.

“There are at least 5,000 sarees with the weavers and master-weavers of Kaithoon, Bundi and Baran,” said Nasruddin Ansari, a national and state award-winning master weaver who is based in Kaithoon. Ansari works with about 70-100 weavers, and he is holding a stock of more than 400 sarees. At an average price of Rs 8,000 per saree, he has stocks worth Rs 32 lakh.

The starting price of a simple handloom Kota Doria saree, in pure cotton, without a zari border, is Rs 2,500. Prices depend on the mix of silk-cotton blends, the width of the zari borders and motifs. The value of 5,000 sarees with the weavers is approximately Rs 4 crore. It takes about 20 days to weave a saree, and the ones with intricate motifs can take up to 40 days to complete.

Nisha, who is also running a self-help group of women weavers, says she has about 30 sarees with her. She has no yarn, and so the loom installed in her house is idling. Almost every household in Kaithoon has a specially designed pit loom, with have pedals that are suspended in a narrow rectangular pit. A weaver sits on the floor and uses the pedals to operate the loom. Some households have two looms.

Part payments

Weaving is one of the sources of income for these households. The male members of the households are usually tailors and carpenters. With all activity stopped, families have been living off their savings.

“The weavers got part payment for the work they delivered,” Nisha said. “That helped the households to buy groceries and other essentials in the first part of the lockdown, but now there is no money,” she added.

“We got by in the initially as many buyers sent us part payment after the lockdown was imposed. Some sent us 20 per cent of the value of stocks, a few others as much as 50 per cent,” said Ansari. This money was paid to the weavers. With the lockdown extended, the financial situation has turned grave, many households have to depend on the meals provided by the government and other aid agencies.

Seeking government buying

The weavers need government support to get over the crisis, Ansari said. The weavers had approached a Sewa Kendra in Kaithoon for assistance but had not received any. He felt bulk buying by state and central agencies would provide the weavers relief. The Central Cottage Industries Emporium which has a chain of stores across India could be one such buyer, he added.