Ponduru village, also known as the Khadi village, is situated 30 km away from Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.
Ponduru Khadi is famous the world over as it still uses a single spindle (charkha) for spinning the fabric.
Since 1949, these weavers have been weaving Khadi products like sarees and dhotis.
In the same year, the weavers belonging to Padmasali, Pattusali, Sali and Devanga communities in Ponduru founded the Andhra Fine Khadi Karmikabhivruddhi Sangham (AFKKS). Today, AFKKS along with Ponduru Khadi are under the aegis of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC).
“Our Khadi products are famous in India as well as other parts of the world, but it was disheartening to see our workers earn only Rs 200 per day from the sale of products,” says Jallepalli Sankararao, an accountant at Ponduru Khadi Institute, adding that the institution’s fate changed after a group of engineers approached them to make a documentary film three years ago.
A weaver’s tale
It was a serendipitous encounter that brought Jashvanth Naidu, Suraj Potnuru, Sailendra Naidu, Rupank Daneti and Bharadwaj Naidu to the Ponduru village to make a documentary about Khadi. This was done as a part of the Social Scientists initiative, which is an outreach programme to identify social problems and contribute towards them in some small way.
Even though they knew about the problems the weavers faced, the engineers say that they truly understood the seriousness of their situation only while interacting with them during the shoot.
“It was very difficult to see the condition of the Ponduru Khadi weavers. They weave the cloth from a special variety of indigenous organic cotton such as red cotton and hill cotton. My friends and I approached Ponduru Khadi to make a documentary but we ended up designing a website for them,” says Jashvanth, adding that the site was made free of cost.
The five engineers, used their skills to launch the website ‘loom2home’ in 2017, which helped the Ponduru residents sell their products and earn a decent profit. “During the initial stages of the launch, we selected 200 customers from across the world, who have assured us business worth at least Rs 10,000 per year from Ponduru Khadi,” adds Jashvanth.
He also says that most orders Ponduru Khadi receives are from the US and UK.
The engineer adds that it was the middlemen who were lapping up the profits by marketing Ponduru Khadi products on the streets and shops. “Many middlemen earned a good profit from the sale of Khadi products. Moreover, they didn’t pay the weavers sufficient money. So, we launched a website to help the weavers and eliminate the middlemen,” Jashvanth says.
Basva Mohanarao, a weaver at Ponduru Khadi, says, “Earlier we used to make only Rs 200 per day, but after the website launched many started to order from Ponduru Khadi and my salary increased to Rs 300 per day.”
He adds, “I work from 9 am to 6 pm. During the initial days I only knew how to make sarees and dhotis, but now I know to design shirts and kurti tops for the customers.”
“After the launch of our website, there has been an increase in the weavers salaries by 25%-30%. Currently, the weavers get Rs 250 to Rs 300 per day but in the coming months, we will hike the weavers’ salaries, as per the company’s profits,” says Jallepalli.
Behind the scenes
Once the website receives an order, a team assigned to take care of the orders, is notified. The team then informs the weavers about the order on a WhatsApp group who then begin weaving the clothes on their charkhas. Once the product is complete, they pack it up and send it to the customer via courier services.
Ponduru Khadi also sells customised sarees, shirts, dhotis and tops. The price range of the clothes lie between Rs 1,800 to Rs 10 lakh.
“The weavers make pure Khadi products and have now started to make a new Khadi-denim mix product. As we understood that the demand for denim increased in the industry, we asked the weavers to experiment by mixing pure Khadi with denim and it got a good response. In the coming years, the weavers will surely try more experiments with Khadi products,” says Jashvanth.
He adds that the work of the documentary of Ponduru Khadi has not been completed as yet. He hopes to release the documentary by next year.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)