A traditional silk sari is part of a woman’s life. But weaving a single six-yard splendor involves taking the life out of 10,000 silkworms. Breaking from that traditional method of extracting silk, Kusuma Rajaiah, a senior technical officer with Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society Ltd (APCO) found a way out: No loss of life, yet gleaming silk.
It all started with a general query from Janaki Venkatraman, wife of former Indian President Venkatraman, during her visit to Hyderabad in 1990 as to whether APCO made silk saris without killing silkworms.
That prompted Rajaiah to experiment with a process for the production of silk that did not entail the killing of silkworms. The life cycle of a silkworm (Bombyx mori) does not last for more than a couple of months and it has the usual four stages – eggs, caterpillar, cocoon and adult moth. The adult moth, which has been completely domesticated for ages, has lost its ability to fly high or live in the wild.
Silk sulk: there is little awareness regarding the inhuman method used to produce silk garments
The caterpillars of silkworm feed on mulberry leaves for up to four weeks, growing in size by almost 10,000 times, before they begin secreting a viscous liquid from their glands, which is a combination of fibroin (silk) and sericin (gum). They form a white cocoon around themselves and it is at this stage that they are dropped into boiling water (with the caterpillar still inside them) to make conventional silk. However, Rajaiah decided to wait for a week until the caterpillar metamorphosed into a moth and flew away from the cocoon before extracting the silk filament.
Although the cocoon is now damaged by the adult moth that has made a hole on the surface, and yields much less silk, Rajaiah has no regrets. “God made all creatures. Several people criticized my method of silk extraction. They believe that it is no big deal to kill the caterpillar since the moth survives for just about a week after coming out of the cocoon. But I feel, all creatures have the right to live their lives to the fullest. Will a man agree if his life is cut short by a week?” he asks.
“The damaged cocoon does not yield a continuous silk thread and it has to be spun again by machines and it takes almost two months for the final product, that too after incurring a heavy loss of silk,” says Rajaiah. The final product is also twice as expensive as the product made by conventional methods, he adds.
In 2002, Rajaiah received the patent for “Ahimsa Silk” from the Patent Office of the Government of India. Rajaiah, who creates his own designs, uses eco-friendly vegetable dyes. Ahimsa International of New Delhi conferred an award on Rajaiah in 2008 for his humane approach toward silk production. Rajaiah also received the “Shining World Compassion Award” from the Supreme Master Ching Hai International of Taiwan the same year.
Although animal rights activists across the globe have been persuading people to shun products such as leather made from animal skin, there is little awareness regarding the inhuman method used to produce silk garments.
Inspired by a man making sandals out of used tyres in the US, Jay Rege and Jothsna came to India to turn eco-conscious shoemakers, launching ‘Paaduks’. The social entrepreneurs also share their profit with their cobblers, says Rohan Potdar
If the word Goa evokes just images of raves, read on, you may end up in the land of sandy wonders soon. For, Renuka Singh’s list of the top 10 beaches informs us that Goa has something on offer for everyone, including those seeking solitude
Her first attempt to save a 12-year-old girl from the clutches of an abusive father failed. But that propelled Renu Singh to turn a crusader for gender justice and rescue about 3,800 girls and women in over three decades, says Partho Burman
The success of Milky Mist, a dairy company, is a story linked to the big dreams of T Sathish Kumar, a class 8 drop out. P C Vinoj Kumar tells us how a 16-year-old turned his father’s floundering business around by giving it a new identity
Winner of many awards for his social work in Mumbai slums, Jockin Arputham missed the Nobel Peace in 2014. But for people whose life he changed through his dedication, he is indeed an ‘arputham’ (miracle, in Tamil), says Kavita Kanan Chandra
Whatever job he was in, S M Venkatesh saved abandoned people from the streets. Now, his Agal Foundation works with Helpage India, responding to distress calls, quickly and efficiently, as P C Vinoj Kumar found through a snap sting operation
Starting with a night shelter for children of sex workers, Prerana has come a long way providing support to women stuck in Mumbai’s red light district. Kavita Kanan Chandra retraces Priti Patkar’s 28-year journey that has saved many a child
To counter ‘guns and drugs’, a culture that he saw abroad, Chetan Misra mentors children through football, which he believes is a tool for social and holistic development. Through ‘TheFootballLink’, he promotes the game, says Partho Burman
From behind the veil, a group of Muslim girls in Mumbra dreamt big and have realised it. First, they learnt playing football, against all odds, and have set up a club. Now they have plans for intellectual pursuits, says Kamayani Bali-Mahabal