Published: 23rd April 2018
Century-old handloom unit for visually impaired resumes operations in Tirunelveli
Established in 1911, the handloom unit was set up to provide job opportunities for the visually impaired. There are 19 handlooms available in the unit, with eight visually impaired persons involved
A more than a century-old handloom weaving unit for visually impaired persons, located inside the Higher Secondary School for Visually Impaired on St Thomas Road, Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli city, resumed operations after remaining closed for nearly four years.
Started in 1890, in the campus of Sarah Tucker School in Palayamkottai, by Annie Jane Askwith, a CMS missionary from England, the school started functioning on its present premises in 1908.Visually impaired students, mostly from the southern districts, are studying in the school, which is spread on a sprawling 23-acre area.
To provide employment opportunities to visually impaired, a handloom weaving unit was started on the school premises more than a 100 years ago.
Though handloom weaving was being done by visually impaired persons, the unit stopped functioning around four years back. The unit has now resumed functioning and is providing jobs to visually impaired men and women.
The school’s correspondent, S Sam Sundar Raja, said, “We resumed operating the handloom weaving unit towards the end of last year. To uphold the handloom tradition and rehabilitate visually impaired persons, we took steps to restart the unit. Since bedsheets, towels and mattresses and being produced here, they are selling like hot cakes.”
Raja said the demand was far higher than the supply. “We are strengthening the unit step by step,” he said.
The principal of the school, J Kingston James Paul said that the unit was started in 1911 and that there were more than 100 hand looms in the unit, which was closed in 2014. “Since it resumed functioning, visually impaired persons have produced more than 50 bedsheets and 100 towels so far. We are also planning to produce handkerchiefs, lungis, table linen etc. As there are only a few people working here, we are not able to meet the demand for the handmade items now. Since the quality is really good, the orders are pouring in,” he said.
The unit’s supervisor, S Francis said that after his father and brother, he was working at the unit now. “ Only four handlooms are functional now. The thread comes from Nagercoil. We expect more people to join the unit,” he said.
Busy weaving a bed-sheet on a hand-loom, 70-year-old visually impaired U Ganesan said that he had studied up to 8th standard at the school here and had then joined a vehicle meter company in Coimbatore. After he came to know that the handloom unit had reopened, he came to work here. He also stays at the unit, he said. “I have earlier worked in the unit, from 1965 to 1971,” he said.
28-year-old A Sheela Vasantha Kumari, who has a low vision problem, studied at the school. She later completed her MA and MPhil in History. After completing B. Ed, she is trying for jobs as a school teacher. Meanwhile, she joined the weaving unit, to support her needs.
Another person with low vision, Ananthammal (39) said after completing schooling, she was sitting idle at home. “I have now joined the handloom weaving unit and I am undergoing training to make mattresses,” she said. The reopening of the unit has come as a big boon for us, she remarked.
Spinning thread on the spinning wheels, T Mariammal (50) and A Esakiammal (39) said that they had worked in the handloom weaving unit before it closed. They said they were happy to come back and that they were enjoying the work.
Most of the people working at the unit expressed the hope that the unit will now continue to function and provide employment to the visually impaired.