Chennai floods: Anakaputhur’s resilient weavers and weaving heritage in peril; urgent aid needed

Over 60 weaving families in Anakaputhur are striving to find hope amid the aftermath of the cyclone, which caused extensive damage to handloom equipment.

ByRoshne Balasubramanian

Published Dec 08, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdated Dec 08, 2023 | 12:39 PM

Chennai floods: Anakaputhur’s resilient weavers and weaving heritage in peril; urgent aid needed

The handloom weavers in Anakaputhur, a Chennai suburb, have a history of facing and recovering from disasters. Just three years ago, they rebuilt their livelihood after the setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

C Sekar, a third-generation weaver from the Anakaputhur Weavers’ Association, recounted how they’ve endured the infamous Chennai floods in 2015 and Cyclone Vardah in 2016 — facing one calamity after another.

Another cyclone wreaks havoc

Following the recent havoc caused by Cyclone Michaung, their looms and workspaces have once again been damaged.

Loom damaged by the cyclone and floods. (Supplied)

Loom damaged by the cyclone and floods. (Supplied)

While extremely grateful to the firefighters for their survival and relocation to safer grounds, Sekar, a Limca Book of Records-holder, highlighted the uncertainty surrounding their livelihoods due to this devastation.

“Everything — loom, fibre, and more — has been destroyed due to the cyclone and flooding. Despite our efforts to secure the loom, it was wasted, and all items suffered damage,” he told South First.

A segment where handicrafts and palm-leaf products were being made was also affected. The weaving area remains inundated, with the water yet to recede.

Also read: Cyclone Michaung leaves trail of destruction in Andhra

No official assessment

On the morning of Thursday, 7 December, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin visited the area. However, despite his visit, there has been no official assessment or aid provided for the damage and flooding experienced in the region.

“The Chief Minister came to distribute rice and departed promptly. The exact quantity provided remains uncertain as it was a one-time distribution. Approximately 60 families of weavers within our cluster have been affected by the flood. While other workers are present, these 60-odd families constitute the natural fibre artisans,” another weaver said.

Also read: The man who braved Cyclone Michaung to travel 200 km — all to save a 2-year-old cancer patient

A legacy of weaving

Anakaputhur, previously bustling with nearly 5,000 handloom mills, now sustains only a mere hundred weavers. The losses incurred during the 2015 Chennai floods amounted to fabric and equipment worth approximately ₹45 lakh.

“The weavers in this cluster rely on natural fibre and continue to adhere to traditional methods without employing modern technology,” one of the weavers explained their traditional approach to weaving.

Looking ahead, the weavers foresee a lack of work until they can rebuild their looms and units. They urgently seek government support to restore their means of living.

Also read: Cyclone Michaung: Health risks loom as Chennai floodwaters recede

Lack of essentials

Damaged caused by the cyclone. (Supplied)

Damaged caused by the cyclone. (Supplied)

These families are facing difficult circumstances, lacking essentials such as food.

“The Anakaputhur Bridge is also closed off to traffic, posing difficulties for the residents to travel, or for outside help to reach us. This has hindered our ability to purchase essential items,” said Sekar.

“There’s still no power in our area due to snapped electric lines. However, the network connectivity has slightly improved and is a bit clearer now. Regarding essentials, we’ve received milk, limited to one packet per person. The availability of other essentials remains unclear,” he shared.

Damaged fibres. (Supplied)

Damaged fibres. (Supplied)

Right now, they urgently need necessities — rice, lentils, medicines, soap for personal hygiene. “It has been 10 days since we were able to work due to this situation. Our need is immediate, especially with no supplies in sight,” said Sekar.

More than 70 percent of the weavers in Anakaputhur are women, and they also need access to sanitary essentials.

“No official visits have occurred; only a friend provided some monetary help, and we haven’t gone anywhere since the cyclone,” shared Sekar.

Also read: Living through 36 hours of Cyclone Michaung in Chennai

Starting anew

It’s estimated that it will take a minimum of a month to recover.

Relief work after the cyclone. (Supplied)

Relief work after the cyclone. (Supplied)

“We require cotton yarn, warp, a new reed, and help to set up new handlooms. Nothing can be done here for at least a month without these essentials,” said Sekar.

None of the residents managed to speak to the Chief Minister. “Only party members were present, making it impossible to communicate,” said a weaver, who wished to remain anonymous.

The affected areas, namely Teresa Nagar, Shanthi Nagar, Karumari Amman Kovil Street, and the adjoining Gandhi Nagar continue to face issues.

“In Shanthi Nagar, Karumari Amman Kovil Street, and Gandhi Nagar, not even a single packet of milk or any essential item has been distributed, and people are still stranded in flooded areas,” added Sekar.

To extend support to the families in Anakaputhur, you can reach out via Instagram at @ananafit_sekar or contact them at 9841541883.