IN KALMUNAI - Six months after the tsunami, the villagers of Marudamunai - a hamlet in the east coast which was badly hit by the sea surge - are trying hard to revive their handloom industry.
Carpenters are busy with their tools and the weavers are occupied with their handloom machines while men and women in the village get on with life with the little resources that the tsunami had left for them.
In Marudamunai where a large population of Muslims live, handlooms were their main livelihood before the tsunami completely destroyed the wooden looms owned by many villagers.
Prior to that, handlooms were a thriving business. Villagers weaved the famous Batticaloa sarongs, sarees, bed sheets, napkins, handkerchiefs and many other handloom products.
Marketing was never a problem for them. Their products sold fast and they also had many traders visiting the village to purchase their produce. But the tsunami reduced their industry to nothing.
Many of their looms went under water. As a result, they have not been able to get back to their work during the last six months. The disaster had already made their lives miserable. The weavers did not have the finances or determination to restart the business.
This is when the ITDG, an organisation which promotes small technologies to mitigate poverty, came to support the revival of the handloom industry in this village. This was following a request made by some weavers. Subsequently, ITDG officials visited the village, met the villagers and drew up a plan to revive the industry.
In Marudamunai, there are 200 households who owned handlooms, of which 160 owners were affected by the tsunami. Some 148 looms got washed away and 675 looms were partly damaged.
ITDG has chosen a list of beneficiaries who are members of several co-operative societies. These include Zam Zam Co-operative Society, Marudamunai People's Company, Rahumania Co-operative Society, North Marudamunai Handloom Co-operative Society, Nila Co-operative Society, and Mohamediayar Co-operative Society.
"We have decided to repair 50 per cent of the looms that were totally or partially damaged. And the repair work is now under way," A. Wijeyan of ITDG told the Daily News.
"Accordingly, we will repair 300 looms and will also provide 50 new looms by July 20," he added.
We visited some of the loom owners during our visit to Marudamunai on Monday.
I.L.M. Asanar is a chief member of a co-operative society which owned 23 looms. He lost eight of them and two of his workers died. "ITDG has promised to repair four of my looms which is a great help. I feel very satisfied with this program," he said.
Asanar used to weave 15 sarees a day and each saree gave him a profit of Rs. 60.
But, at present, he does not get any income as his looms are not usable.
"We want the ITDG to introduce to us some new technologies - to increase the productivity and improve quality," Asanar said adding that "many representatives from foreign agencies who visited our village had promised to purchase our produce and also to find us export markets in the future."
To meet this demand, we need to increase our production capacity, he added. Wijeyan of ITDG said they intend to introduce a new loom which is easy to handle, so that the productivity will be increased immediately.
This community has also received some assistance from the Small Industries Ministry and a few orders have also been received from several organisations to produce material for Sunday school uniforms.
An NGO from Norway has requested them to produce certain kinds of mats to be exported. Asanar is a masterweaver who won a Presidential award in 2004. Fifty four people from his community won this award.
A.L.A. Salam lost eight of his 10 looms to the tsunami. Under the ITDG program, he would be getting two looms.
A.C.A. Raheem had 35 looms of which 24 got damaged. He had 35 employees earlier. He got six machines repaired and has restarted the work. And he is getting four looms under this program.
"I hope to go into full production when the looms are replaced. We had a lot of business before, therefore, we want to rebuild what was lost," he said.
M.I. Warith had all 10 of his looms damaged by the surging sea water. He had 15 people working in his plant and four died when the tsunami hit their village. His plant is within the 200 meter buffer zone and now he is unable to go there and restart his business as they are not allowed to rebuild in the same area. He is married with three children. He is getting four looms under the revival program.
A.L.A. Majeeth lost weaving thread worth Rs. 10 lakhs. He had over 20 looms and used to make 100 bed sheets, 200 hankies and 25 sarees a day. Now with the remaining looms, he manages to do five sarees and 20 bed sheets a day which is not sufficient for living.
He had 25 people working for him, now he has only five. "I used to pay 250 rupees per person. Now I pay 40 rupees per person, because now I have only a few people and they do not have any other income to get on with life. They need money and I have decided to give them more," Majeeth said.
However, once the looms are repaired and the new ones are made, the weavers still need up to Rs. 30,000 per loom to revive their work.
They need to fix many other parts to make the looms work and they also have to purchase thread to start the project. The weavers are hopeful that some agency would come up to support them at this juncture.
Many of the workers do not own any looms. They only operate looms belonging to handloom owners on a daily or weekly basis.
Women weavers are dominant members of such groups working for a wage. These groups either work in the factories belonging to handloom owners or else work in their own homes using the looms of the owners.
A considerable number of women workers are engaged in work involving application of dye, weaving borders and floral designs. They have lost these occupations and their income sources after the tsunami.
Wijeyan said that ITDG is aware of this factor and decided to establish a common weaving centre with a view to grouping individuals to work for a daily or weekly wage through a co-operative society and help re-establish their livelihood.
"We need to provide them training in new technologies and create an interest in handlooms among a new generation. Our wish is to see that this group is working towards achieving their goal by being responsible for the functioning of this weaving centre," he added.