Updated: Jan 31
The novel Coronavirus pandemic, which began in the Hubei province of China, has now spread to most countries of the world including India. Although the number of positive cases reported have been low compared to countries in Europe such as Spain and Italy, the virus could have a disastrous impact on the fragile Indian economy. We delve into what could be the potential aftermath of this virus on the cottage textile sector of India.
The future of the handloom sector hangs in the balance as the lockdown is announced in India
Lock down in China
The lock down and the subsequent ban of exports from China meant that Chinese silk was no longer in supply in the Indian markets. This immediately drove up demand for Indian silk yarn, resulting in a sharp rise in the price of Indian silk. Some suppliers of silk started hoarding silk yarn which they panned to sell at a much higher margin due to the shortage in supply. At this point (around mid January), it was quite obvious that the pandemic was having a negative impact on the economy. Higher prices/shortage in supply meant that a good number of weavers were temporarily out of jobs.
Day to day life in China has been completely upset due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown imposed
21 day lock down in India
Early theories on how Indians were immune to the Coronavirus due to the temperature and humidity conditions were abandoned as the virus started steadily spreading through the population. By the 24th of March, what started as a handful of "imported" cases of the virus had already ballooned to around 500 confirmed cases and 10 deaths. The Indian government, in response, imposed a 21 day lock down from the 25th of March to curb the spread of the virus. This made sense since the country lacks basic infrastructure and equipment needed to treat the severe cases of the virus, which almost always result in death if not for intervention. While many healthcare experts agree that this lock down is absolutely vital, the consequences on daily wage workers such as silk saree weavers is going to be unprecedented. Such a massive lock down has not been recorded in recent history. Most daily wage laborers, including weavers, come from very poor economic backgrounds and depend on timely payments to make ends meet. Since all production has been shut due to the lock down, their only source of income has been cut. There is a possibility that a good number of these weavers will leave the sector altogether and pick up jobs elsewhere in order to sustain their lives. If this happens, India's treasured hand loom sector would be irreparably damaged.
It is also unclear at this moment if the lockdown would be extended much further than this period.
A lockdown of this scale has never imposed in India before.
Government relief measures
As we know, textile production in India is not fully industrialized. While the consequences of the virus pandemic and lock down are going to hit all sectors hard, the airline and auto sectors would most likely be bailed out by the government to prevent job losses. The cottage textile sector, on the other hand, is likely to be ignored. This has disastrous consequences for the future of the sector which involves production of hand crafted products. Proper representation by manufacturers, retailers and ecommerce players is key in bringing temporary relief to the daily wage laborers involved.