The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Weavers leave minister suicide note

Chirala (Andhra Pradesh), Nov. 27: The last but one house in the third lane of the weavers' colony drew hordes of visitors this week.

Not for any bumper sale of handloom products for which this town in Guntur district is famous. But to condole the death of an elderly weaver couple who committed suicide on Wednesday after going hungry for days.

Seventy-year-old A. Subba Rao and his wife Srilakshmi drank pesticide together in the evening after what went by the name of a frugal supper.

Before that, they jointly wrote letters to state finance minister K. Rosaiah, MP Purandareswari, the district collector and leaders of the handloom weavers' association, pleading that they ensure a similar fate does not befall other weavers.

'Please ensure that our fate does not descend on other weavers. Just slogans do not help. What the weavers need is your support to live on their own. Not sops or doles.'

Blaming the elected representatives for not fulfilling poll promises of providing work and remunerative prices for the produce of handloom weavers, the couple pointed fingers at the huge and wasteful spending for election campaigns.

'Even if 25 per cent of the funds wasted were given as doles to weaker sections like us, we could have survived for some more days,' they said.

The entire 3000-strong weavers' community turned up at the house of the couple who breathed their last next to their only possession ' a rickety handloom that was their source of livelihood for over 25 years.

'He was a master weaver of sorts. The designs he introduced like mango border, flowers and checks in handloom weaving had revolutionised saris and dhotis and made a mark in the Asian market,' said Gopala Rao, his 50-year-old neighbour.

Even at 70, Subba Rao used to personally ferry his products to shops. He cooked for himself and his ailing wife, carried water and cleaned their two-room house, whose broken tiled roof and dilapidated walls told the story of their poverty.

'Both lived on less than Rs 500 a month without electricity and sufficient water,' said the neighbour.

District authorities said they had made arrangements for the cremation of the couple since none of their children or relatives were around. 'Unfortunately, we are rule bound not to give compensation to their next of kin,' an officer said.

A stunned Rosaiah said the Congress government had done a lot for weavers. 'Only last month, we made it mandatory that all should wear handspun clothes every Saturday,' he said.

The decision is expected to promote sale of handspun clothes by a minimum of Rs 30 crore a month and clear the backlog of products worth Rs 310 crore lying unsold at the Andhra Pradesh Cooperative.

Rosaiah said he could not campaign for compensation for weavers as the government had limited it to farmers.

He said the powerloom and handloom sector accounted for a turnover of Rs 800 crore last year. 'But the handlooms had become an endangered commodity with stiff competition from the powerlooms.'

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