4 The Tale of the Poor as Market-led Co-producers

Handicrafts have an ancient lineage in India. The country is an immense and diverse reservoir of craftspeople using traditional manufacturing techniques (Liebl and Roy 2003). Those productive activities are usually family-based and traditionally serve local or regional markets. In many cases, craft activities have specific religious and social functions or serve purposes such as house building, nets for fishing or tools for farming. Among rural productive activities, handloom weaving has a long history in India. Before the introduction of the mechanical handloom during the colonial age, there was a vibrant ecosystem of traditional Indian weavers across the country. The introduction of machine-made fabrics and the industrialization of production, however, led to the near collapse of this traditional handloom ecosystem (Clingingsmith and Williamson 2004). However, handloom weavers still survive at the fringes of the formal economy. In recent decades, this industry has been periodically struck by deep crises (Niranjana 2001). As a result, the rural livelihood of weavers has been eroded, traditional skills are fading and the displacement of labor to cities is threatening the socioeconomic structure of the rural society. Since independence, the Indian government has attempted to keep the traditional craft industry alive through a number of policy measures (Deepak 2008). However, scarce demand for their products, competition with ...

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