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Feb 20, 2003
College girls save an industry.

Smile and wave your greetings to the bright, animated college girls of Tamil Nadu. They have just revived a dying industry and saved thousands of weavers.

United News India has reported this delightful story, which begins with one of the many ‘bribe-the-poor’ schemes in vogue in the State for many years. Weavers --in the name of protecting them-- would be commissioned to produce cheap sarees and dhotis and politicians would grandstand by giving them away to the queuing poor in media events. It cost the government Rs.110 crores to run this shoddy scheme, complete with an entire department administering it.

The new government under Ms. Jayalalithaa scrapped the scheme and all hell broke loose at once. Every politician decried this ‘heartlessness’ toward the poor and the weavers. 4.5 million sarees waited in ware-houses for buyers. While the ‘poor’ seemed to be carrying on, 21,000 weavers were indeed forlorn. Most of them were looking for other means of livelihood. The entire state joined in the debate and took sides.

But girls in a college in Sivakasi decided to ‘do’ something about it. In a brilliant move they nominated a Handloom Day on which every girl would buy and wear a handloom saree to support the weavers. The press splashed pictures of 1500 girls showing off the ‘poor’s’ saree in style. Their jaunty demeanour struck a fashion chord among other college girls in the state and soon there were Handloom Days everywhere. It became an ‘in’ thing to wear handloom sarees to college.

The 4.5 million orphaned sarees were sold out in two months-- and the girls wanted more! Co-optex the handloom apex body in the state, having stumbled into an unsuspected new market, has sold another 100,000 low-cost sarees in 150 new designs by the National Institute of Fashion Technology. Co-optex has also begun to market inexpensive salwar-churidar suits targeted at the teenagers. The weavers show-cased as the pitiable ones, are back in business and can’t meet the demand. Managing Director of Co-optex, Mr Vishwanath Shegaonkar says,"We owe this tremendous success to college girls and rural women.”

Goes to show that the only ones that will lose when subsidies are withdrawn would be politicians and babus.

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