On April 14, while announcing the second phase of COVID-19 lockdown., Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore the now famous red and white scarf and the image was widely publicised by the media. There were even reactions from Manipur expressing gratitude to the prime minister for popularizing the scarf from the state. However, a few days after the same people of Manipur raised their voice against mass production of the state’s traditional scarf locally known as ‘leirum phee’, as ‘Modi gamcha’ by weavers in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki.
Even the Directorate of Handloom and Textiles in Manipur wrote to the Ministry of Textiles to stop this bulk production of the ‘gamcha face mask’ in order to safeguard the interests of weavers in Manipur. The directorate had cited “emotional discontentment” among the people who have criticized the insensitivity of factory owners in Barabanki for unscrupulously copying their traditional design and weaving it for mass profit. “The emotions of people of Manipur ran beyond imagination,” commented K Lamlee Kamei, director of the Manipur handloom and textiles department. For Manipur, the so-called scarf or the traditional ‘leirum phee’ has deep rooted cultural and historical importance for the people of Manipur.
The unfolding of the development says a lot about how appropriation of traditional motifs and designs. Moreover, through such events and developments, one understands that human creativity lies in creative transformation of the material world into the human world. This transformation has been witnessed evidently not only in performative arts but also in the traditional wear, craft and artefacts produced by the people in the Northeastern region of India.
While the tribes and communities have taken immense pride in exhibiting their distinct costumes, clothes, crafts and arts, over a period of time, subtle changes have impacted the way the people have conceptualized endless designs. Starting with the simplest form of basket making to most complicated fine works of weaving and jewelry making or even in the art of building traditional houses, motifs and artefacts are created from the material resources available in the environment.
However, ever since the advent of vigorous contact with the outside world in the post British colonial dispensation, changes are gradually being witnessed in their way of life leading to major transformation in creativity.
The first impression of creativity gets translated into design patterns in the day today use of the shawls or clothing with numerous patterns conveying definitive meanings with functional values.
With emphasis and prominence given to traditional motifs and designs, there has been a process of renewed interest in the ways of weaving traditional clothes with delicate handloom woven designs as distinct from those made by modern looms.
What is even more significant is the fact that there are textile products and designs for almost every occasion in life specifically worn by the people. The production of clothing or textile wear starts with a universally inherited profession of weaving. Each community of the Northeast has specific designed patterns using colours that signify differently generated meaning drawn from the surrounding environment.
Each of the communities has a different approach to spinning and weaving their own clothes. The colours or the combinations of colours with their distinctively generated meanings add up to the beauty of the product.
Despite the abundant resources and products besides the establishment of numerous emporia across the country, the efforts made have not been fully able to ameliorate the economic conditions of the creator – the traditional crafts-persons to be precise. This calls for long term vision vis-à-vis the process of globalization and its negative impact on growth of indigenous products besides the appropriation of traditional motifs and designs.