The Tree of Life – the holistic approach to beauty & health

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

At Krya we have different lines of products:  A line of cleaning products for the home like our Detergent and Dishwash, and our soon to be launched floor cleaner, all purpose scrub and toilet cleaner. We also have a range of skin and hair care products which we have been testing in small commercial batches all through last year: our range includes a face wash, a body wash, a body wash for kids and a hair wash. In the near future will launch a line of botanical oils, serums and salves to moisturize and protect your skin and hair.
While these may seem like separate lines of businesses, to us, they form part of an organic holistic mother lode: they are all gentle, plant based products that help clean and care for you in the most natural and non toxic way possible.

Many times the human body is treated as a linear, system-wise, unconnected organism. By treating ourselves by parts, and essentially using the process of separation and division to look after ourselves, we sometimes fail to see the connection behind all the disparate products we use on and around ourselves.

It makes perfect sense to us as a company that advocates an alternate, more natural way of living and provides products to support that life to be in as many categories as possible.

Only with a large number of products can we begin to affect a change and make the impact that we would like to have possible. So for instance, if you suffer from asthma, are prone to sneezing / wheezing attacks, it makes sense for you to examine the impact of added synthetic fragrance not only on the soaps or moisturisers you may use, but also on the household cleaning products you are exposed to like your detergent, floor cleaner or dish cleaner.

4synthetic dishwash

When we started Krya, we thought long and hard about 2 things: the categories we would play in, and the ones we would not participate in.

Food (basic grains, lentils , fresh produce) was a category we decided not to participate in at Krya. This decision emerged out of several reasons: one of the most important being our belief that food, more than any other category of products should be hyper local.

Krya supports good food

Traditional medicine argues that the best health benefits accrue from plants, herbs, vegetables and fruits that grow naturally, easily and abundantly around where you live. This means that if you live in Chennai and have your roots in Tamilnadu like we do, the best cereal for you is probably rice. And within rice, it is probably the native, traditional breed of rice that was available in every season around where your ancestors lived. So instead of looking high and low for that quinoa brand or eating goji berries, it would do us a lot more good to eat traditional rices, or millets  and some Amla / Nellikai.

Mapillai samba rice

( Of course if you are a Bolivian or Peruvian national living in India, you could be excused for that quinoa craving.)

Quinoa - hyperlocal to the andes

Although Krya does not make food products, we fully acknowledge the vital role of good food for our health & well being. No matter how reverentially or carefully we create our skin and hair care products, they will only work as well as your overall health and nutrition permits.

So if you have not been taking care of yourself in this winter season, and have allowed yourself to experience its vata effects, then your skin and hair will feel dry and lifeless. Good nutrition, health, sleep and a positive attitude remain the base for good health. A good, well made product will only build on a strong foundation.

The Amazing Amla

One of the ingredients we use across all our skin and hair care products is the Indian gooseberry, called Amla in Hindi and Nellikai in Tamil. The Hindi name for this amazing India fruit comes from its Sanskrit name “Amlika”.

In Hindu mythology, the churning of the ocean gave us Lord Dhanvantri and the elixir of Life, Amrit. In the clash between the Devas and Asuras over who got to eat the Amrit, drops of it were said to have scattered over our world, giving rise to the Amlika Tree.

The beginning of the Holi Festival in India, is called Amlaka Ekadashi, a day when the Amla tree and its resident deity, Lord Vishnu is worshipped. The Amla tree is ceremoniously watered and bathed, and a ritual offering is done for the tree.

Amla composite

The Amla / Nellikai has been a popular and significant gift across time in India. Even emperor Ashoka was gifted half an Amla fruit by the Buddhist Sangha – a stupa was created to mark the event, called the Amlaka Stupa.

The 2000 year old Vamana Purana, states that one can survive by consuming just the fruit juice of the Amla. Amla is also called “dhatri” or the nurse. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues, strengthens our internal organs, and is believed to increase prana, and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

Amla is one of the Three great Myrobalans used extensively in Ayurveda, Siddha and in the Tibetan school of medicine. Triphala (3 fruits), a multipurpose Ayurvedic formulation used both externally and internally has many uses ranging from ama (toxin) cleansing to wound healing and regenerative properties. Amla is one of the constituents of Triphala and ranges from forming 1/3rd of Triphala to 80% of the formulation depending on its source.

Chawanprash, an all purpose medicinal jam, or leghyam which is advertised every winter to build immunity and prevent coughs and colds, has many ingredients, but is main ingredient is Amla.

Amla works great: within & without

At our work in Krya, Amla is an extremely important ingredient. It is a Vitamin C storehouse, offering nearly 3000 mg of Vitamin C per 100 gram of dried herb. Studies demonstrate that this Vitamin C is extremely bio available for the human system compared to other synthetic sources.

Amla in Krya

Ayurveda and Siddha consider Amla as a tridoshic herb, a herb that balances all the 3 doshas. In tastes, it is said to satisfy all the 6 rasas or tastes. It rejuvenates the body cells, tones the tissues and strengthens the organs. It is believed to increase the life energy / prana and has a sattvic effect on the mind.

In its internal use, Amla is believed to impart youthful vigour, strengthen the lungs, cures many illnesses including diabetes, and anaemia, and helps activate many of the body’s systems like the circulatory system, digestive system and liver and pancreas functions.

Amla is described as a kayakalpa, or an ingredient that helps keep the body ageless and help extend life.

Obviously, Amla forms an important ingredient for our work at Krya and we use this ingredient quite extensively in our skin and hair formulations. In our face and body wash, it has been used for various reasons right from helping restore the acid mantle of skin abused by long years of using alkaline surfactants, to soothe and repair skin problems and even to firm up and tone skin.

In our hair wash it is used to soothe and repair damaged scalp and hair and help correct cuticle damage and restore the hair’s acid mantle.

Preserving Good Health

January – late February is the Amla season across India. I am of course referring to the indigenous Amla, which fruits once a year and not the hybrid Amla which is available throughout the year.

Our food traditions document many different methods of preserving Amla and enjoying its good nutrition through the year. Much before the advent of commercial jams that are full of E Numbers, synthetic flavours and colours and have incinerated any goodness in the fruit through high heat and chemical preservative techniques, we used to eat Amla murabba and Amla in honey.

Another way to preserve Amla is through the brining technique. While many detailed recipes are available online, the method of preservation remains simple. After washing and drying the Amla (preferably by sun drying for a short time to remove moisture), they are preserved in pure brine, and allowed to soak in the flavour in a glass or porcelain jar. By ensuring that your hands, utensils and ladles are clean in the process, you can preserve Amlas for several years using this technique. The Amlas thus preserved are not only storehouses of nutrition but also bring in the beneficial effects of fermented and cultured vegetables, helping flood your digestive tract with beneficial gut flora.

Ayurveda also lists several liquid decoctions in its medicinal arsenal. Arishtams are boiled herbal decoctions which are fermented for a period between 1 – 3 months using cane jaggery or date palm jaggery in anaerobic fermentation. The liquid thus obtained is called an “Arishtam” and usually has a natural alcohol content of upto 10%. Our family has a daily preventive dose of “Dasamoola Arishtam” every day to build our natural immunity and strength.

Asavas are fermented liquids which are not boiled. The process of making them is similar to an Arishtam (except for not boiling them) and they are usually left to ferment in either their own biological water or added water until they are ready to use.
Amla Asava is an interesting, indigenous, easy to prepare asava that you can try during this Amla season. This Asava can be had by everyone in the family (including children above the age of 2 in small doses) everyday. Regular use is said to build immunity to respiratory diseases and infectious coughs and colds, helps increase appetite and digestive powder and helps flush out ama or toxins from the body.

Amla asava is traditionally made in homes across Kerala during the Amla season. I first got to taste it in my yoga class, courtesy a fellow student whose family traditionally made it every year. The traditional method prescribed in the Sarangadhara Samhita suggests using a clay pot for the asava / Arishtam preparation.

However traditional medicine is extremely particular about the soil from which this clay pot is made, prescribing the use of river soil harvested in a particular season. Further, to prevent any oxygen from contaminating the asava, Ayurveda prescribes the use of ghee from an indigenous variety of cattle to be used inside the pot. This ghee creates a natural air lock preventing the entry of oxygen and unwanted micro organisms into the asava.

As a vegan alternative, the texts allow the use of glass or porcelain instead, which is what I have used. Care should be taken to ensure that your hands, utensils and spoons are clean and dry when making this asava to avoid contaminating the asava.

Each home in Kerala follows its own individual method of making Amla asava. I’ve given below a recipe which uses no water. I’ve followed this recipe to ensure longer shelf life of the asava so that it needs no refrigeration. Other recipes exist which use water to increase the amount of asava that is available.

As always our recipes are a starter. Once you begin making them, we hope that you will be inspired to read and research more on this subject and introduce your own unique variations to the food and medicine you prepare for your family.

Here is the Amla Asava recipe.

Amla Asava:

Ingredients: (Please use organic ingredients as much as possible. I was able to get completely organic ingredients for the entire Asava recipe)

  1. Ripe, unbruised firm Indian gooseberry – 3 Kg
  2. Date palm Jaggery – 2.5 Kg (If this is not available, you may substitute with any aged , dark cane jaggery)
  3. Cardamom peeled – 20 gm
  4. Cloves – 20 gm
  5. Cinnamon sticks – 2 – 4
  6. Black dried raisins – 150 gm
  7. Washed, clean and dried Porcelain / glass jars to hold about 4 Kg of material
  8. Washed and clean thick large squares of cloth (for tying the top of the jar)

 

Method:

Carefully inspect the Amla to ensure there are no bruise marks or black dots on the fruits. Wash in clean cool water, wipe with a clean dry cloth and dry in gentle sun for about an hour to remove all trace of moisture.

Powder the clove, cardamom and cinnamon finely, separately, under low heat, and mix the spice powder together.

Now prepare the asava by scoring 2 / 3 cuts on each Amla fruit and lining them in the porcelain jar. Follow each Amla layer with a smattering of black raisins, some of the spice powder followed by a thick layer of jaggery powder. The jaggery powder should completely cover the Amla, raisin and spice layer like a thick seal.

Continue the process until you exhaust all your material. Ensure that your last layer is the jaggery layer. Seal the porcelain jar with its cover and tie your cloth several times around the lid to ensure it is completely air tight and does not allow any oxygen to go into the jar.
Leave the asava jar in a cool dark place for 40 days. On the 41st day, open the jar and filter out the black asava extract without squeezing the gooseberries. This extract can be stored without refrigeration for upto a year and can be consumed.

When drinking your asava, remember to always drink it diluted by adding an equal quantity of water. For children, 1 teaspoon of asava with 1 teaspoon of water is a safe dosage. For adults, 3 teaspoons of asava + 3 teaspoons of water is a good dosage. It is recommended this asava be eaten the first thing after waking up on an empty stomach atleast 30 minutes before eating breakfast to help absorb nutrition from food better and improve digestion.

Amla asava composite

Good Food: The foundation for great skin & hair

We are putting the foundation for the Krya factory to manufacture our skin and hair care products. At the same time we are always exploring the idea of what constitutes good food , which is the foundation for great skin & hair.

We hope you find some inspiration for treating your body to good food with this article.

Disclaimer: The amla asava is a wonderful, time  honoured product that is very safe to use for most people. However as good corporate practice, we at Krya must mention that this blog article does not constitute medical advice & request you to use your discretion about your particular state of health or consult your doctor, before embarking on its use.

This article is a part of Krya’s series on toxics in household and personal care products. Through this series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to look around your home and detox it and yourself from the harmful action of more than 100,000 suspect industrial chemicals that surround human life today. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for yourself and your home, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you. 

If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what we’ve written before this piece:

  1. An introduction to the series
  2. Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
  3. Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
  4. Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
  5. Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 101 telling you what you should look for in food product labels.
  6. Do the cosmetic products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode them? Here’s Urban survival 102 telling you what you should look for in cosmetic labels
  7. Two non toxic cleaner recipes you could try in your home and a Krya factory update
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Green Bazaar update and conversations on sustainable fabric & menstruation

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

If it is too good to be true, then it probably is. Krya was conducting a workshop and showcasing skin care products at the Alternative’s Green Bazaar yesterday. We commissioned a commercial artist to hand paint a cloth banner for us for our stall. We wanted to avoid the regular plastic flex banners with digital prints. We e-mailed our artwork to the artist, who assured us a perfect reproduction of the design by his own hand, using cloth and paint.

We were getting the banner printed in a rush , just the day before the bazaar. The night before the event we hopped into the artist’s studio to check out the progress on our banner. We arrived in time to discover that he digitally printed our design on a piece of flex and was using that as a stencil to create a “hand-painted” sign.

So after all the fuss, we printed a plastic banner in order to create a sustainable, hand-painted cloth banner. Had we known this, we could stopped our artist right at the plastic stage.

So we took our resource heavy cloth banner to the Green Bazaar on Sunday morning, along with the Krya detergent and Dishwash and the preview packs of the soon to be launched Krya hair wash and Krya face wash.

6.Krya at the green bazaar

Conversations on Sustainable Menstruation

We were thrilled to meet the team from Eco Femme, which is doing great work in sustainable menstruation. Kathy of Eco-Femme introduced me to Vijay and his work in menstrual activism. Vijay’s work is in a very specific field in menstruation: the right to sun-dry your undergarments and menstrual cloth. Before you think that this is a little too specific, Vijay shared a study by the Adyar cancer Institute which found that one of the causes of cervical cancer was the lack of sun drying of undergarments and menstrual cloth. The subsequent dampness, moisture and folding away of these garments were somehow able to create favourable conditions for the entry and spread of the Human Papilloma virus, which is associated with several medical conditions including cervical cancer.

I was struck how some people don’t have the basic to right to dry their clothes in the sun and some-how ended up with terrible consequences. This was an eye-opener.

5. eco femme

Later in the day, I was happy to share my experiences with Menstruation and how I made the switch to Eco Femme’s earth friendly cloth pads at Eco Femme’s Sustainable menstruation workshop. Kathy Walking then showed us a very powerful video that they had made at Auroville to demonstrate both current menstrual practices and the environmental effect of continuing to use disposable products. This video showed that women across India tried to dry their undergarments and menstrual cloth in cupboards, under beds, in the bathrooms, under sinks and similarly damp, possibly unhygienic places which had no air or light. This arose from a superstition that menstrual cloth was unlucky and should not be seen by Men. The point that Vijay was making resonated strongly with me as I saw this.

The second piece of research estimated the size of landfill if every single woman in India used disposable menstrual napkins every year–58 billion pads thrown away each year would occupy the land equivalent to 173 football fields every single year!

So yes, it is important to be open about Menstruation, and claim both our right to sun dry and our right to make better choices for our planet.

The Sustainable Fabric workshop

Krya and Chakra design studio jointly hosted a workshop on handlooms and naturally dyed fabric. A conversation with Ananthoo of Tula, reveals an interesting economic fact – a kilo of chemical dye costs as low as Rs 20, and a kilo of vegetable dye could cost anywhere between Rs 400 – Rs 1000 !

7. the Krya Chakra workshop on fabric

So obviously on the face of it, it makes no economic sense to even attempt to use natural dye on your fabric. Plus the colour palette of natural dyes is extremely limited. You will not obtain the “exciting” computer colours that are not abundantly present in nature like lime green or fuchsia or a bright purple.

2. natural dye colour palette

 

The Krya Chakra workshop was an introduction to handlooms and natural dyes, and listening to Bindu, I was struck by other limitations of the craft. The natural dyeing process is temperamental – you are never sure of the exact shade of colour you will get at the end of the process, because the same tree across different harvest years will yield slightly different shades.

The natural dyeing process needs to be done very carefully and meticulously. For example, to ensure the cloth holds the dye, dyers use different pre-treatment methods like soaking the plain fabric in buffalo milk and Terminalia chebulia or Myrobalan before applying the mordant. And this varies from region to region and the natural resources that are available to each dyeing community.

Natural dyeing is also a very water intensive process, compared to chemical dyeing. Chemical dyes come in easy to use forms which can then be straight away applied to the cloth, and have been designed to be colour fast.

But applying natural colours follows a linear process: each colour has to be applied, fixed, the excess washed off and sun dried before the next colour can make its way into the fabric. The process is therefore very time-consuming compared to using chemical dyes.

With so many apparent disadvantages in using natural dyes, why then are we supporting this craft?

While the water consumed by natural dyeing is large, it is important to remember that all of this water can be happily used for agriculture or other purposes. Bindu shares that in her dyeing village, the craftsmen swim in the irrigation canal, and stand of either side of it allowing the flowing water to wash away any excess dye. The farmers who use this water are happy to share it as they believe this water is good for the crops and does not harm in any way.

We must remember that before our centralised factory based models came into being, our lives were more intertwined and symbiotic. Treatises on the fabric traditions of India reveal a system of barter used to exist: cotton farmers would exchange their cotton with spinners for finished yarn which they could then hand weave themselves. Spinners would also barter yarn with weavers for finished fabric.

Chemical dyeing today has its roots in natural plant based dyeing, and the craftsmen are drawn from the communities of vegetable dyers. And they carry along with them practices of vegetable dyeing. So while chemical dyeing does not require the extensive rinsing and drying and liner processing that vegetable dyeing entails, it still requires water as a last rinse. And both small chemical dyers and large dyeing factories dip their textiles into running water and rivers to rinse off the excess dye.

The aftermath of chemical dyeing

We already shared the story of the Noyyal River in Tiruppur. Historically, the Noyyal River was called the “Kanchinadi” and considered a sacred river. The river itself is said to contain minerals which are health giving and considered “antibiotic” in nature.

The Chalukya Chola Kings built an interconnected tank and canal system to this river which helped drain away the excess water from the river into an intricate system of tanks preventing flooding along the banks. And the tanks themselves helped replenish groundwater by percolating the sub soil (in this we must understand that these tanks were not the impermeable cement graves that we dig today in the name of water storage, but tanks where the bottom was mud allowing water to percolate the sub soil).

Today, the Noyyal River has been kindly described as a sewer. The Tamilnadu Pollution control board estimates conservatively that 883,000 tonnes of toxic waste is dumped into the Noyyal River every year by the textile mills around Tiruppur.

2.noyyal runs black

Farmers have abandoned cultivation as digging below 6 feet releases a black, toxic sludge. Any produce grown absorbs chemical content and changes colour – coconuts for instance were found to have red insides as against their regular white insides.

8. Bindu and I at the workshop final

Chemical dyeing related illnesses

A video from Craft mark which documents the process of hand dyeing using chemical dyes, reveals a horrific basket of chemicals which the dyers dip their hands into every month – to set the dyes, the dyers have to dip their hands and the fabric into caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, sodium nitrate and soda ash, and acetic acid. The dye stains their skin almost indelibly and they find eating difficult as the dye colours and odorises the food they eat. They explain that they need to take a 2 day holiday to recover for every 10 day chemical dyeing work they do.

As we shared this with the audience at the Sustainable fabric workshop, we saw several people look at their shirts and garments with undisguised horror – imagine the effect these very same chemicals will have as they sit malignantly close to your skin and continue to be slowly absorbed by your skin every day.

Krya Talk

Of course, apart from the conversations with different people and the workshops at the Bazaar, it is a very edifying experience to stand in your own stall and greet visitors with information about what you do. I found a lot of interest around the Krya hair wash, and our small batch at the Bazaar was sold out. Apparently even my threats of greenish residue left behind in the hair was not enough to deter people who wanted to try out a safer product on themselves. The question I was asked most about was whether the Hair wash would reverse hair fall.

9. How does this work final

I am particularly wary about marketing claims, coming as I do from a background in Consumer Product Marketing. Most research and statistics can be interpreted in any way to obtain favourable results for the product you are marketing.

I particularly dislike product claims – it is my belief that is almost impossible to isolate external, environmental and internal causes from the workings of a product. So if I told you the Krya hair wash would reduce hair fall, and when you bought the product, you also decided to detox your life and started eating organic food that was wholegrain and maybe vegan, with a lot of greens in your diet, it would stand to reason that your health indices would dramatically improve. This meant that your hair fall, if you had any would also slow down. Now should I attribute it to the Krya hairwash you were using at the time? Knowing what goes into the product and how it works, I could say yes. But I would be incorrect if I discounted the dramatic effect of eating clean healthy food on your system.

So to the questions on hair loss, I simply said that the hair wash would do what it was supposed to do really well – it would clean your scalp and hair without loading your system with toxins, and leave your scalp to function in a regular healthy manner without irritating it or stripping it of serum.

I was pleased to find that my underplayed response resonated with my audience. And we quickly sold out. To add to this, 2 of my consumers who had bought the hair wash two weeks back when we launched, came to the stall to tell me how well the product was working for them. And this feedback, as you know, makes my heart sing. If you too would like to try our limited range of skin and hair care goodies please click here.

The Green Bazaar also showcased some interesting food stalls, including a food stall by SHARAN which showcased vegan food and also showcased the vegan creations of a young Mum who is a wholegrain baker. I noticed several participants carrying SHARAN’s leaflets, and was thrilled at people’s interest and curiosity around this very pertinent subject.

3.team sharan

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. lavender at bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you missed it, the Alternative’s Green Bazaar is a bi-monthly event – so do ensure you are there the next time around.
If you too would like to know about Menstruation and why it is not environmentally sustainable at the moment and explore your options, start here.

In the meantime, our series on sustainable fabric continues. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .
  10. Our post on Onam, the Mundum neriyathum and wearing your culture is here.
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Wearing your culture – the Nivi drape and the Mundum Neriyathum

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

My daughter’s school is festive with pookolams today as the school gets together to celebrate Onam. A traditional Onam Sadya is going to be served at school, and all the children are wearing traditional clothes today.

2. pookolam

Onam is a multi religious festival in Kerala which celebrates the Vamana Avatara of Vishnu and the homecoming of their King, Mahabali.

3. mahabali and vamana jpeg

After being sent in the underworld by the Vamana Avatar of Vishnu, King Mahabali is said to visit his subjects and his kingdom once a year on Onam, from the netherworld , and it is this visit along with the coming of the Vamana Avatar itself that is celebrated at Onam. The festival also celebrates the bounty of nature’s harvest and homes are decorated with beautiful flower kolams or pookolams and a grand 26 dish repast, called the Onam Sadya is served across homes in Kerala.

7. Onam Sadya

As with all festivals in India, the attire you wear tells everyone that you are celebrating something. The Saree, which for a lot of us today is worn only during a festive occasion, has been traced back to the Indus Valley civilisation. The word saree itself originated from the Prakrit word, “Sattika” which meant a strip of (unstitched) cloth.

In the Indian tradition, the navel of the Supreme Being is considered the seat of life and creativity, which is why the traditional saree wearing style leaves the midriff bare. The sari finds mentions in Silaapadikaram and Banabhata’s “Kadambari” which describe the sensuous grace of women in sarees.

When Draupadi was dragged into the Kaurava court after being gambled away, the Mahabharata mentions that she was wearing an “Ekavastra” – or a single piece of unstitched cloth. This definition continues to hold true until today, and the sari is a 4 – 9 metre long piece of unstitched cloth.

Some historians believe that the men’s dhoti is the forerunner to the saree. Gandhara and Mathura sculptures from 1 AD to 6 AD,  depicts dancers and goddesses wearing a dhoti as a wrap, draped loosely around the legs and flowing into a decorative piece in front of the legs like a fish tail. No upper garments are shown.

3.12th century apsara

In the ancient world, whether it was India, Greece, Mesopotamia, draping an unstitched cloth was considered the most elegant way to dress. It was the art of the elite to arrange the folds of a toga or the pleats of a sari to give them a garment that was both aesthetically pleasing and also enabled their easy movement.

300px-Marcus_Aurelius_at_the_British_Museum

Marcus Aurelius depicted in a Roman Toga

The toga, for instance was a 6 metre unstitched woollen cloth worn over a linen tunic, adapted from the native dress of the Etruscans. It was believed to have been established at the time of Numa Popilia, the second king of Rome, and was considered the only decent attire that a Roman could wear outdoors. Free citizens of Rome wore Togas to distinguish themselves from the slaves who only wore tunics. From 2BC, the toga began to be seen as the symbol of Roman citizenship, so much so that when Emperor Augustus saw a meeting of citizens without the toga, he is said to have quoted the poet Virgil’s lines and referred to Romans as “rerum dominos, gentemque togatam” (Lords of the World and the Toga wearing race) and then instructed people not to appear at the Forum or Circus Maximus without their Togas.

Draped unstitched garments are now lost and are no longer worn in most of the Western World. They still continue to exist in Scotland through the Scottish Kilt. However, Asia continues to maintain its tradition of wearing draped, unstitched garments through the Sub Continent’s Sari and Dhoti and the South East Asian sarong.

The sari drape we wear across India is called the Nivi drape. Apart from this more than 100 different drapes exist across India, favoured by different regions and communities.

5. Raja Ravi Varma - Instruments

 

The Nivi drape, gained nation wide acceptance around Independence for a variety of reasons.

The paintings of Ravi Varma were as important factor: while he depicted women in different saree drapes, including the Mundum Neriyathum which we are going to explore, he metaphorically depicted the Indian subcontinent as a Mother wearing a flowing Nivi drape.

Cinema also had an important role to play in the adoption of the Nivi drape. Many actresses in the early decades of Indian cinema were usually featured in the Nivi drape unless they portrayed women from different regions which were symbolised by different saree drapes.

8. Nargis - Hindi Movie actress

 

The freedom movement in India which was symbolised by Khadi was another factor in the universal adoption of the Nivi drape. The Indian women freedom fighters wore their Khadi sari using either a Nivi drape or a Gujarati drape.

4. Mahatma Gandhi & Sarojini Naidu Dandi March

Maharani Indira Devi of Cooch Behar popularised both the Chiffon sari and the Nivi drape. The chiffon sari would later be worn with equal grace, beauty and aplomb by her second daughter Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. Maharani Indira Devi was a trendsetter in many other ways apart from her sari draping style. At 18, she famously broke her engagement to the Raja of Cooch Behar as she had fallen in love with his younger brother, and wrote to the Maharaja herself calling off her wedding. After being widowed early, she followed the convention of wearing whites, but transformed her mourning clothes into clothes of fashion by having silk chiffon saris woven in France to her specifications. This new chiffon sari along with the other factors we discussed homogenised sari fashion across India.

1. Maharani inidra devi of cooch behar

However, despite the popularity of the Nivi drape, certain traditional drapes of sari continue to be associated with our festivals.

For Onam, which is being celebrated across Kerala and in many Malayalee homes outside of the home state today, Onam is teh occasion to wear the the Mundum Neriyathum.

Our guest writer today, Gitanjali Menon, a friend of mine from college, a proud Malayalee and a person who celebrates her cultural roots with great joy has graciously agreed to write this mini piece today for us. A banker by profession, Gitanjali has taken time off to nurture her two young girls. She is passionate about classical dance and is currently returned to her passion and is training in Bharathanatyam at Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi. She blogs in her free time and is also training in classical piano.

Here is Gitanjali speaking about the Mundum Neriyathum.

A traditional garment in Kerala, Mundum Neriyathum, is made up of starched undyed hand woven cotton cloth worn by women. The material is comfortable and suitable for the hot and humid climate of Kerala and can be washed regularly requiring very little maintenance.

The attire comprises of two pieces of cloth, the Mundu and the Neriyathum.  They are normally white or cream in colour and have a plain or designed border called ‘Kara’ in Malayalam. The ‘Mundu’ or ‘Thuni’ meaning cloth in Malayalam is worn around the waist and extends to the ankles in length and the ‘Neriyathu’ is either draped diagonally like a saree over the left shoulder (modern style of draping) or wrapped around the torso and tucked into the blouse (traditional style of draping). The blouse is normally worn matching the Kara of the Neriyathu. The Mundum Neriyathum is also known as the Set-Saree or Set-Mundu as it is a set of two mundus. This garment is believed to have inspired the ‘Nivi’ or national style of draping Sarees, which is popular amongst most Indian women.

There are many different theories about the origin of this attire. In Buddhist and Jain Literature there is mention of  ‘Sattika’ which was the surviving form of the ancient Saree.  The Mundu is the extant form of an ancient clothing referred to as ‘Antariya’ or lower garment and Neriyathu is the modern adaptation of a thin scarf worn from right to left shoulders referred to as ‘Uttariya’ in ancient Buddhist and Jain texts.

The narrow borders along the Mundu Neriyathum are also believed to be an adaptation of the Greco Roman costume ‘Palmyrene,’ which comprised of two pieces of cloth; one worn over the body and the second, called ‘Palla,’ long piece of unstitched cloth, worn over the left shoulder. It is believed that traders from the Mediterranean visiting the Malabar Coast must have introduced it and the attire has evolved over time to its present look

9. Raja_Ravi_Varma,_There_Comes_Papa_(1893)

During festivals such as Onam and Vishu, most women wear another variant of the Mundum Neriyathum called the ‘Kasavu Mundu.’ The Kasavu Mundu is different because of its golden/copper or Zari border, which gives the attire a richer look. During the festival of Onam all women across age groups wear a Kasavu Mundu and perform a folk dance called ‘Kaikottikali’ in a circle around a ‘Nilavilakku’ or large lit lamp. Traditionally, young unmarried girls wear green coloured blouses and married women wear red blouses with their Mundum Neriyathum.

A part of our sustainable fabric series is about celebrating our cultural roots and our traditional Indian attire. We have more posts on the subject coming up. In the meantime a very happy Onam to you.

We hope that our series on sustainable fabric is inspiring you to take a closer look at your wardrobe. Our series on sustainable fabric has the following posts: 

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here
  6. The second part of the textile traditions of India that suit Monsoons and Winter is here.
  7. Our post interviewing Lata Ganapathy-Ravikiran on Handloom love and why she chooses to support this industry is here.
  8. Our post on the warped state of Handlooms in India and what ails the sector is here.
  9. Our post on the dangers and all pervasiveness of Bt Cotton is here .

 

 

 

 

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The Sutra of Thread – Part 2

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Reading Time: 6 minutes

One of the reasons the Indian handloom and handicraft sector is so much in the doldrums is because as consumers, we lack knowledge. We do not know our sustainable fabric basics which is why we sometimes easily forego our traditional textile crafts.

The incident that happened to us a few days back, illustrates this lack of knowledge.

An advertisement in the newspaper about a State government run handloom and handicraft exhibition had me visit an event. When asked where their advertised vegetable dyed handloom sarees were, I was shown a pile of sarees of which apart form a few, the rest were clearly dyed using synthetic shades. After some questioning, the salesman took out 4 – 5 sarees from his large pile – these were dyed in shades of green, brown, red and black, and he confirmed that only these were “pure vegetable dyes’ and that the rest were vegetable dyes that were mixed with synthetic dyes.

I felt the texture of the sarees and their weight and asked him if they were indeed handloom sarees. The manager at the billing counter told me that they were all power loom sarees, and that handlooms would be coarser and bulkier in comparison. I had to contest this statement. He replied that they did not have any cotton handlooms in the expo as they were much more expensive compared to the power loom saree. But the event was advertised as a “handloom” exhibition. And the sarees were sold at the counter as “handloom “.

Ignorance, in this case is not bliss. Our ignorance is costing us our water, soil, air and is putting an entire generation of weavers at risk as we no longer appreciate or even know anything about what they create. Here is the second part of Richa’s informative post detailing how the textile crafts of India follow our seasons. Here are the textile crafts that suit monsoon and winter.

Following hard on the heels of the scorching summer, are the cooling rainclouds. The country revives with the cooling drops of life-giving rain – (barkha in urdu). And the rejoicing that marks the season finds its way into the patterns and designs of Indian fabric.

Lahariya – the very name suggests its wave-like fluidity is a tie & dye technique that can be seen all year round in Rajasthan – on pagdis (turbans) and odhnas (versatile wraps). However there is no season when it comes as alive as during the monsoons in the rainy months. This technique of resist wrapping and dyeing is typical of Rajasthan. The pattern of diagonal lines is said to be inspired by the direction of rain drops – of special significance in the desert state.

2. leheriya printed saree

 

A variation on the plain lahariya involves a second overlay of diagonal stripes, creating a grid. The pattern is named mothra because of the grid’s resemblance to the motth – a lentil grown in Rajasthan. These wrap resist tie-dyed patterns were traditionally done on fine mulmul as it enabled tight folds which meant a finer patterning.

In times gone by, the Leheriya style was worn exclusively by the Marwari community in Rajasthan. The Royal class wore Leheriya in blue.

However, today the lahariya technique has made its way across communities and onto other materials like georgette and chiffon which lend themselves to this technique. Interestingly, Lahariya is so much a part of the collective consciousness of Rajasthan, that it is one of the most popular mehendi designs applied by women on Teej , a north India festival that celebrates the monsoon.

1. teej celebrations

 

As the frenzied beats of the monsoon wind quieten, the evenings become cooler and it is time for the all-too-brief Indian Autumn. The Sharad Ritu has arrived, heralded by a host of festivals and celebrations. And how can the festive season be complete without new clothes?

The season of festivals naturally entails a series of rites which involve ritual purity. Most Indian rituals involve a deeper meaning than mere symbolism and this extends to textiles as well. It is for this reason that in the strictest adherence to ritual, silk is not worn at havans or pujas because of the inherent violence committed during the production of silk, where the silk worms are boiled alive to yield the filament that then becomes yarn.

So, adherents of the old school still prefer the thicker khadi, which through its slight coarseness, creates a sophisticated, slubby texture that bespeaks honesty. In its thinner avatar, khadi lends itself to upcycling through the kantha technique of Bengal, just as the year freshens up after the monsoons.

Sujani Kantha or simply kantha was initially a quilting technique applied to rags and tatters to recycle them as bags, covers and wraps which were exchanged as gifts between friends and family. It was based on the principle of giving new life to things that have outlived their usefulness. This cycle of life is also manifested in two popular deities Cinidiyadro, the Lord of Tatters and Chithariya Bhairavi “Our Lady of the Tatters” who are believed to give a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to them.

4. nakshi kantha

 

When the lights of Deepawali have dimmed, North India starts to get cold – very cold. By the time the month of Paush comes around, chill winds are howling through the valleys and plains. It is the season to stay warm at home, think of the past and tell stories.  One tale comes to mind – the story of the paisley.

Once upon a time, long long ago, a teardrop from Babylon made its way to India. There it caught the imagination of the weavers of Kashmir. They stylized it in the shape of the raw mango – the kairi or ambi and began weaving this into the exquisite pashmina shawls they made.

These shawls were highly prized and went by the trade name of Jaamevar or “that which is woven in the length of a garment or jama”. They took upto 3-4 years to weave and were prized by royalty, who were about the only people who could afford it. History also states that The Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, had a Kanni Shawl or a Jaamevar in her marriage trousseau. At the time, a Jaamevar shawl would take upto a year to weave!

empress josephine

Then, in the 18th century the officers of the English East India Company discovered the Jaamevar shawl which they took back to England as gifts. Their sweethearts and sisters were so taken with this that it soon became all the rage in fashionable circles. So coveted were these shawls that they formed a prized part of Josephine’s dowry during her marriage to Napoleon.

Over the years, the fashion burgeoned and the weavers were no longer able to keep pace with the demand even embroidering designs instead of weaving them. In the 19th century, the mechanized jacquard loom was introduced in Europe and used and inferior quality of wool to reproduce a semblance of the hand-woven shawl. Several of these looms were set up at a weaving town called Paisley in Scotland. For a while the looms of Paisley brought abundant prosperity to the town and gave their name to the shawls, as well as the stylised ambi motif typical of the Jaamevar. But fashions are fickle – the bustle came into fashion and the Paisley shawls became outmoded. The town became a ghost of itself but the name that it had given to the ambi stayed.

3. kanni shawl

While the finesse of the original Jaamevars is lost in the mists of Kashmir, there has been a revival in the village of Kannihama, a little way away from Gulmarg, and select wool still finds its way into Indian shawls today. And Pashmina wool remains popular option for Indian women today. (thankfully, toosh and shahtoosh varieties of wool have been outlawed for their brutality.

As the winter fog lifts to give way to spring, the cycle of seasons is complete, and the timeless saga of Indian textiles comes a full circle as well.

We would like to thank Richa Dubey, for taking the time to educate us through this wonderful, lyrical 2 part series on the textile traditions of India.

 

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here
  5. The first part of the textile traditions of India that suit Spring and Summer is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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The Sutra of thread – part 1

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Ignorance, in the case of Indian textile crafts is certainly not bliss. As I put together this series on textile crafts and the sustainable fabric tradition of India, I am continually amazed at how rich, varied and wonderful our textile traditions are.

I am also angry at the myopic school system that I studied in: none of this made its way into our curriculum, and was only offered at an advanced level in college or as a part of a Masters Programme. This compounded ignorance led me, in my early working days to mass produced clothing which I found in Malls. This clothing was not really cheap, but it was easily available, and seemed to be the norm around me.

Today, when I see power loom fabric being passed off as handloom, and synthetic dyes and screen printed fabric ruling the roost, I remember my time as a young working adult, making financial choices, and realise my choices have created the word I see today.

As I reached out to textile enthusiasts and people passionate about handlooms and crafts, I found a world of information, environmental sustainability and beauty just around the corner. And I’m happy to see the Krya blog hosting this information.

We are happy to share this guest post written by Richa Dubey on the textile traditions of India and how different types of weaves and fabrics exist for the different seasons in India.

Richa wears many many interesting hats. She conceptualised and runs a gender activism campaign ( see www.bitly.com/GurgaonGirlcott ); leads public affairs for a prospective national innovation university; built an advocacy strategy for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative’s India office; anchors a breakfast show on national television and manages an international world music festival.She also leads the marketing practice at niiti consulting a for-profit social enterprise consulting firm. She is a passionate believer in environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability (which is why she works at niiti). Her life is currently ruled by her children (one each, canine and human) her work and her passions (and all of them intersect, so it’s fine)

We are especially proud that Richa is a passionate Krya consumer, and that is how we came to meet her and know of her work.

 Here is Richa Dubey’s lyrical, eloquent piece on how Indian textile crafts offer different fabrics for the different seasons of India.

How often have we heard of the diversity in India? Its climate, food, culture, philosophy (in the 6th century BC there were at least 200 different schools of philosophy that co-existed). One example of this rich diversity is textile. Marvellous in its variety, texture, fibre… not forgetting the textile techniques that embellish a fabric, there is possibly a traditional textile that exists for every single occasion in your life, though we shall limit ourselves to the seasons in this piece.

However, before embarking on this journey through the warp and weft of India, where a common thread of understanding runs through the land, it is important to touch upon, at least briefly, the reasons why it holds such an important place in our lives.

Right from the philosophical to the everyday, the understanding of fabric has been intrinsic to the understanding of India. The Rig Veda pictured the universe as a cloth woven by the Gods – the cosmos an infinite length of fabric with its warp and weft constructing a pattern upon which all life is painted.

Much later, Kabir, the 14th Sufi poet-saint (who was also a weaver) likened the Absolute to the divine weaver and our souls to a pristine scarf which is sullied by a life of ignorance and sin in “Jheeni jheeni beeni chadariya” (incidentally, this piece by the late Pandit Kumar Gandharv is my favourite rendition)

2. kabir

As with other facets of daily life in India, philosophy and common wisdom spills over into textiles as well. Just as Ayurveda advises the eating of fruits and vegetables in season, it makes sense to pick traditional textiles according to the season as well.

Beyond being weather-friendly, these natural weaves and techniques also reflect the changing moods of the year and incorporate festivals into their lexicon.

The essence of Spring

Beginning with the season of Spring which takes the first place in the time-honoured Indian cycle of seasons, we see it blooming in textiles as an expression of eternal rejuvenation. Vasant is the season of rejuvenation of cosmic energy. It stands for new beginnings represented by fresh blossoms. It is also the time when Kamadev releases his flower-tipped arrows of love.

The essence of Spring has been captured in the repertoire of Indian motifs known as butis, butas and bels. Different regions of India have interpreted these motifs according to their own aesthetic sensibilities. While the Bagru tradition from Bagru in Rajasthan  is famous for floral designs in dark vegetable colours, the Kalamkari tradition from Macchlipatnam interprets them differently. In North India where Mughal influence still lingers, they take on a stylized air in gracefully drooping flower-pots. From whichever region, whether painted, embroidered, hand-block printed, or more recently, screen printed, they form an integral part of the Indian design lexicon.

One of the most popular motifs which are symbolic of eternal Spring, is the Tree of Life. Although not native to India, it has been a symbol of life, fertility, livelihood, food and protection for centuries.

4. tree of life sweden

Thus, when Indian crafts persons or women at home sought to embellish textiles it was natural that the tree motif was often embroidered, woven, printed and painted on fabrics.

3. tree of life in kantha

 

Its symbolism has been shared in ancient cultures across the world and the tree motif has found expression, both in natural and stylized representations, in varied art forms. At another level the tree is a representation of the Great Mother Goddess. The physical and metaphysical source of life was considered to be manifested in the life-giving powers of the earth and the feminine body, which the Tree is said to symbolize. And there is perhaps no better a time to celebrate this form of fertility than the season of spring, when there is an abundance of blossoming life forms.

 

The summer begins

The fragrant breeze of Spring gives way to the scorching wind of the summer – the loo. People venture out only when absolutely necessary and then, clad themselves in the lightest fabrics possible. The thread of seasons weaves into fabrics like mulmul, jamdaani and kota…

The quality of the fine muslins of India was probably best described by the Sufi-poet Khusrao in the 14th century. “One would compare it with a drop of water if that drop fell against nature, from the fount of the sun. A hundred yards of it can pass through the eye of a needle, so fine is the texture…” So sheer was this fabric (woven in counts of 2000) that the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is said to have berated his daughter for her indecency in appearing unclothed before him. The daughter responded that she was wearing seven layers of cotton mul!

According to Laila Tyabji of Dastkar, What is unique about India is that it transformed cotton from being a kind of a village fabric in to something that kings and emperors and queens… not just in India but all over the world used.

The most prized muslins were woven in Dhaka and were so coveted since ancient times that Roman texts blamed the vanity of Roman women for emptying Roman coffers of gold for Indian cottons. Some of these were especially reserved for the use of royalty. In fact it was these same muslins that drew the British to Bengal . The picture below is a depiction of a Bengali girl clothed in layers of fine Dhaka Muslin.

1.Muslin girl by renaldi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal was also home to a special muslin weave – this was the jaamdani – the ethereal weave which uses an extra weft and gives the motifs the appearance of floating on the ground. Jaamdaani lives even today as the fabric of choice for the humid summers of Bengal. UNESCO has declared the art of Jaamdani weaving as an Intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

5. richa in jaamdani

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But despite the historic and near cult status of the Jamdaani weave, the Jamdaani weaver has no financial motivation to continue creating this textile art. A senior taanti or “ostad” earns about Tk 2,500 to Tk 3,000 per month. Junior weavers get much less, around Tk 1,600. As a result many weavers do not want their children to come to this profession. For many, the Bangladeshi garments industry, despite its several dubious practices and poor working conditions, is a better alternative to this craft.

 

Summer in West India

Beyond the East, the western part of the country also devised its own textile strategies to cope with the heat. A charming, but probably apocryphal story tells of the development of Kota. Kota which is now known for its coaching centres devoted to getting students into IIT also has a special place in India’s fabric tradition.

 

The story goes that a hill princess married into the royal family of Kota. But much as she tried to bear up under the fierce heat of the Thar Desert, she wilted under the heavy, coarse fabrics that formed the traditional garb of the region. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, she commissioned the local weavers to create a light fabric for her. The weavers wove the lightest, airiest fabric that they could – the princess was still not satisfied. Then they pulled out the threads from the warp and the woof at regular intervals to create a lacy chequered fabric. This grid-like ethereal fabric took the eponymous name of Kota.

5.richa in kota

Initially these were woven only in the seven shades of white prescribed in the Vishnu Purana: – light white, tooth white, pure sandal white, autumn cloud white, autumn or sharad moon white, conch shell white and motia or pearl white.The texturing of the fabric was done by the simple expedient of varying the number of threads and the shades of white in the warp and weft of the grid giving it a subtle sophistication.

Today, however, Kotas are available in various colours (and regretfully, synthetic yarn too) and remain a popular summer option.

This post continues tomorrow with Richa describing the fabrics that were woven for Monsoon and winter.

If you want to get a more local, and environmentally sustainable wardrobe, start reading here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha and why you should start one
  3. On the environmental and human health hazards of chemical dyes
  4. The primer to sustainable Indian fabric is here

And do tell us what you think of this new series here or on our Facebook page.

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Dye another day

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Reading Time: 7 minutes

It almost always comes back to water. On the Krya blog we focus on sustainable urban living. We explore the many different ways in which urban living is stressing the environment and equally the many interesting ways in which we can return to a holistic, sustainable way of living.

 

And we are constantly amazed by the myriad ways in which water gets polluted. Ground water and water on the surface of the earth (both fresh and saline). While 70% of the planet is water, there is no good reason to go around trashing this precious resource. This is simply because it takes only a moment to pollute water but an eternity (and a ton of money) to clean it again and make it fit for consumption – by humans, plants and animals. This seems obvious yet the daily massacre of water that takes place compels me to point it out here.

 

The textile industry is a leading source of water pollution. World Bank estimates that 20% of all industrial water pollution comes from the dyeing of textiles. The textile mills release millions of gallons of wastewater containing pollutants like chlorine, formaldehyde, lead & mercury into our freshwater bodies. Some 72 toxic chemicals had been have linked to textile dyeing. A single T-shirt made from regular cotton requires 2700 litres of water and uses 150 grams of chemicals in the production process.

How did the textile industry sink to this state of affairs?

Dye

Dyeing is an ancient art, as old as humanity.

6. cuneiform tablet

The original dyes were mostly plant derived, from roots, berries, fruits and bark. They used simple methods like crushing or boiling to dye fabric. Dyeing was in fact a secretive subject and only a select few could access it, wearing dyed clothes as status symbol.

5. charlemagne's coronation

The medieval depiction above of Emperor Charlemagne’s coronation by the Pope, shows the Emperor wearing am indigo robe and the Pope wearing a  white robe. Indigo and purple in ancient times were worn only by royals. Similarly, in Indonesia, the batik process of dyeing used several symbols and certain symbols could only be worn by royals. People could be placed in the pecking order just by looking at the symbols on their batik clothes.

Some of the most famous ancient dyes were red madder, extracted from the roots of the Rubia Tinctorum and the blue indigo from the leaves of the Indigofera tinctoria.

Indigo, the original king of dyes

Apart from the glorious deep blue colour that the Indigo plant delivers, it was the king of dyes from ancient times for a number of reasons. Most dyes require a mordant like alum, common salt or salts of aluminum, chromium etc, to fix the dye to the fabric and ensure colour fastness. Indigo is unique in that it uses a fermentation process to release the coloring molecules and fabric can be directly dipped into the indigo and dried to get the desired blue colour.

7. dyeing wool

In ancient times, many households would mix the ingredients required into a vat, let the mix ferment for a week to get the dye and then dip the fabric into the vat to colour it. This indigo vat then can be maintained for many years on a continuous basis, adding some indigo as and when the dye dilutes. Some Indigo vats have been known to be used for over a hundred years continuously. It was common for many households to have their own indigo vat. This was a very local, DIY, contained process and very environmentally friendly.

4.badshahmiyan indigo

The picture above, shows Master Dyer Badshah Miyan of Jaipur following this traditional Indigo dyeing process today in Jaipur. Of course we cannot all wear Indigo and other colours are needed. The fundamental unit of living has also changed and we cannot all have an ancestral indigo vat running to meet our clothing needs. Further with the growth in demand for the dye, indigo cultivation started replacing other food crops which made it a precious commodity.

Around 1850 several organic chemists began research into synthesis of indigo from chemical sources. By 1897, BASF had developed a commercially viable chemical synthesis that eliminated the need for the leaves of the Indigo plant. In due course in the 20th century all natural dyes were replaced by their synthetic equivalents. Unfortunately what started off as an innocent quest to replace natural indigo with a cheaper chemically synthesized alternative ended up in an global industry that freshwater with toxic chemicals inexorably.

The T-Shirt Town in Tatters

Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is a leading textile center accounting for 80% of India’s knitwear exports. Tirupur textiles accounted for over $ 4 billion in revenues per year in recent times. It provides employment to over 6 lakh people.

This is really commendable from the economic point of view.

But the environmental costs of the past few decades have been terrible too.

According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulfonic dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal river. This untreated chemical effluent drains into the Kaveri river and then finally washes up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of cropland in this area ,mostly rice fields. The locals have in the past found that the red chemical dye from the Noyyal river water was absorbed by the coconut trees on the banks, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.

2.noyyal runs black

 

The Audubon magazine has this to say about the state of affairs in Tirupur

“The Noyyal is now essentially an open sewer. At Kasipalayam, where the river slows down and effluent accumulates, the water runs brown and smells unbearably of human waste. The banks are strewn with plastic bags, aluminum cans, and other garbage. Close inspection sometimes reveals a splash of unnatural green or purple from the upstream dye factories.”

The environmental risks are similarly severe at other Indian textile hubs like Tirupur.

The pollution is not new news

Since the 1990’s several groups have taken legal action against the polluting units near Noyyal  and a lot of legal back and forth has happened through supreme court orders. In the meantime effluent treatment technology has also improved. To manage the high costs of effluent treatment, common effluent treatment plants ( CETP) have been in vogue for some time now. In Tirupur some 18 CETPs handle the liquid waste of 350 dyeing units. However these CETPs still discharge varying levels of harmful matter into the rivers. With the further development of Zero liquid Discharge ( ZLD ) technology , it is possible to reuse all the waste water from the dyeing units.

Picture1

Treated  & Untreated Samples from Tirupur ZLD plant

 

This prompted the Supreme Court in January 2011 to order the Tamil Nadu government to close all polluting units that did not comply with zero liquid discharge norms. While the Tirupur exporters association claimed in December 2012 that they had achieved 100% ZLD levels, a February 2014 report in The Hindu states that pollution of the Noyyal river continues unabated.

 

What next?

At the start of this piece I noted that it takes only an instant to pollute water but an eternity ( and a ton of money) to undo the damage, which is why each act of pollution must be avoided.

So a number of questions arise.

Can the entire clothing of the planet be met through sustainable textiles, right now ? this year ? How do I know if my brand of clothing uses sustainable practices ?

I checked out the sustainability report of the first brand that popped into my head, Fabindia.

Now this is the information on the Fabindia website

“We use both vegetable dyes and commercial dyes with the goal of minimizing our impact on the environment while striving for the best color properties. For our bleaching process we use only hydrogen peroxide which is totally biodegradable.”

This information gives me 2 concerns straight away

  1. I am not comfortable with the vague term “commercial dyes”. So the next time we hit Fabindia , I need to ask the store staff for only the vegetable dyed items
  2. Hydrogen Peroxide is not inspiring me at all. I have many concerns about the biodegradability of hydrogen peroxide. My simple test is as follows : Can I pour a glass of peroxide into my plants ? I have serious doubts. While I still cannot rule out the safe use of hydrogen peroxide in bleaching textiles, I at least know that fabindia does not use Chlorine bleach in its process, which is considered to be far more toxic as an effluent.

However the more I try and find details about brands with global supply chains with extremely opaque information flows, I realize that it is easier to discover local brands that have clear picture of the entire process. It is my one person satyagraha.

For example, as I type this , I am wearing a shirt from Tula, a brand that creates clothes from rain fed organic cotton, which is hand dyed with vegetable dyes and hand woven.

3. Tula

The entire supply chain is contained within a 500 km radius of my home. It cannot not get more sustainable than this. I cannot get everything that I need from Tula, but I can certainly get a few fantastic shirts, which is a good start.

So how sustainable is the garment that you are wearing right now?

 

To read more about sustainable fabric start here:

  1. Our introductory post on the sustainable fabric series
  2. On the One Person Satyagraha

 

 

 

 

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From Arikamedu to Abercrombie – the sustainable fabric series

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m not sure if my fascination with fabric is more or less than my fascination for washing fabric. But I have always loved Indian fabric and traditional textile crafts.

In school, I learned about the spice trade of India and how it helped many regions within India grow rich as they traded flavourful and hard to find nutmeg, pepper and cardamom which then found their way to kitchens across the world. Romila Thapar’s book on Early India, details this fascinating trade. Muziri located near Kodanganallur Village near Kochi was linked to the pepper, spices and beryl trade. A second century Ad Greek papyrus documents a contract between an Alexandrian merchant importer and a cargo financier of pepper and spices from Muziri, giving us an idea of the large volume of this trade.

6. Arikamedu

Excavations at Arikamedu tell us about a large settlement that used to be in trade contact with ships and merchants from the eastern Mediterranean. Apart from shipping locally available goods, Arikamedu has also been a place where certain kinds of textiles were manufactured locally to roman specifications and then shipped there.

5. Shakuntala

The Roman historian Pliny complained that trade with the East caused a serious drain on Roman income of which atleast 110 million sesterces went to India’s luxury goods. Roman records indicate that the Roman Senate actually banned the import of Indian Muslin for some time to stop the roman gold drain.

Apart from Rome, Indian textiles found their way to Egypt – scraps of Indigo dyed cotton Ikat textiles were found in a Pharaoh’s tomb. Excavations at Mohenjo-Daro unearthed scraps of Rose madder cloth along with spindles.Herodotus, the ancient greek historian, described India’s cotton as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness that of sheep”

Nothing symbolises the freedom and Swadeshi movement as much as the charkha does, and as does Khadi, the quintessentially Indian fabric.Khadi is not just a piece of fabric – it represents an ideology and the beginning of a movement that was founded on self reliance. This said that India could spin her own fabric and clothe herself, thus helping her own economy grow forward.

2. Gandhi spinning the Charkha

Khadi was promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a fabric that would help promote rural self employment and self reliance, and made it an integral part of the freedom movement. But the Swadeshi movement then did not come cheap. Khadi was much more expensive compared to British made fabric. So when people started to complain to Gandhi about the cost of Khadi, he stopped wearing an upper garment and started wearing only a Khadi dhoti as a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle message: that it was better to wear as much or as little Khadi as possible instead of clothing yourself with something that was not made in India by an Indian.

 

Our choices today are multifold. We are a much more global economy, and we have free movement of products, and fabrics from different parts of the world into our country. Globalisation comes with its own unique sets of opportunities. And perhaps we have come back full circle to our days of yore, when enterprising merchants and financiers helped ensure the spread of Indian textiles.

 

With one key difference. The merchants of Arikamedu in ancient times, continued to grow, spin and wear their own cloth, and continued to hold onto their cultural and craft traditions. In fact they grew better and better at it until they had so much to offer, that they could not just make products for themselves but for everyone else as well. The textile crafts and traditions of India are fast disappearing today. They have morphed fast, have taken on several unwholesome aspects and are no longer bountiful or available in plenty.

3.sambalpuri ikat weaving loom
There are many reasons for this. And many hidden reasons when you start examining this. There are also several unhealthy consequences to this.

 

In this month when we celebrate the 67th year of our Independence, won by an extremely unique civil disobedience and non violent movement, we will focus on the equally unique Fabrics of India. This month, on the Krya blog, We will examine in great depth the history of Indian textiles while focussing on certain textile crafts. We will examine their environmental sustainability, explore how well they work for us in our tropical weather & speak to practitioners of the craft and designers who work with traditional fabrics.

1. Girl in pochampally

We will also explore Khadi in depth and study in detail the current issues we grapple with in textiles namely the spread of Bt cotton, the cotton farmer suicides, the environmental issues presented by the textile dyeing industry and the nascent but growing organic cotton industry. All along we will interview and present to you the works of young entrepreneurs and designers who have firmly waded into the fabric tradition of India and are working hard to provide us access again to our famed textile past rooted in the principle of being indigenous, local and environmentally sustainable.

 

Our previous series on reusable menstrual products was an eye opener to us and provided us with a lot of perspective and inspiration. We have no doubt this series on the fabrics of India will be even better. We look forward to bringing you lots of depth, fresh perspective and inspiring reasons to choose a more sustainable and earth friendly wardrobe. Keep reading this blog.

 

 

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And one wash to care for them all – a guide to maintaining your cloth napkins

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

And we come to the end of our series on sustainable menstruation. And as promised, we end this series with a helpful eBook on how to wash and care for your cloth napkins.

Eco femme’s beautifully designed cloth napkins come with a 75 wash guarantee, so their pads will last you atleast 6 years or more. Kathy Walking tells me that she still has cloth napkins which are about 10 years old in her stash, which are soldiering on. So the bottomline, as we promised was that cloth napkins will last you for a long time. Which means that your EQ (environmental quotient) is large and strong everytime you choose a sustainable menstrual product.
Which brings me to the part that we get the most queries about. The washing. And the underlying fear of handling a lot of blood.

Menstrual blood as our high school biology texts taught us are the blood and endometrial lining of an unfertilised egg. So the menstrual blood you handle was created to sustain and nourish another living being. It is not waste. And it is not gross. And is a deep part of our sacred feminine. Many of the users who we spoke to for our switch pieces, echo this as they tell us that using a reusable product helps them connect back to their body and really see their menstrual flow.

But you might still feel suspicious about the work involved around caring for your napkins. As someone who has made the switch successfully and has used only cloth napkins for more than 2 years, I can testify that the hardest part about caring for your napkins is the mindset that it is unpleasant and difficult.

 

I estimate I spend anywhere between 5 – 10 minutes extra everyday I have my period to manage my napkins. But this extra time seems like a very small investment towards keeping tree gobbling and gas guzzling disposables out of our landfills, away from innocent animals and away from ragpickers who are otherwise forced to sort through it. Click here for a neat infographic explaining this.

And this extra 10 minutes means that I get to wear soft, fragrance free napkins that work just as well as my disposables, feel much more comfortable and are healthier for me.

In my book ,this makes these 10 minutes completely worth it.

Click here to download our guide to caring for your cloth napkins with the Krya detergent. And click here to buy the aforementioned Krya detergent.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.
  11. Here is Sruti Hari of Goli Soda chronicling her switch to reusable cloth pads and sharing why she decided to start selling reusable menstrual products at her store, Goli Soda.
  12. Here is an interview of Tracy Puhl, the young, inspiring business owner behind GladRags reusable cloth pads.

 

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The big green switch – Sruti Hari , Goli Soda

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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Our series of posts on sustainable menstruation have covered 3 kinds of areas: We’ve presented facts about how disposable driven menstruation is un-sustainable, and given you charts, facts and blog articles.

We’ve then featured pieces from actual women who have successfully made the switch – both to cloth pads and menstrual cups,

We’ve then interviewed 3 companies who manufacture cloth pads in India, to understand what makes them tick, and why we should support their work.

But an interesting opportunity came my way when I spoke to Sruti Hari. Sruti is one half of the creative team that runs Ashvita – an art gallery, a series of cafes and retail stores focussing on all kinds of interesting products.

I first met Sruti at the Ashvita Bistro which we discovered a few years ago. A few conversations later, I discovered several areas of mutual interest and conversation.

Sruti’s passionate love for Cinema which lead her to save memorabilia and artefacts form Indian cinemas, sometimes from dustbins to build an impressive collection which now form a part of the Cinema Resource Centre.

1. sruti and ammu

Sruti’s deep love for animals and the environment is evident when you see her care for Ammu Kalyani (her beautiful, rescued Indian dog), when you see her growing her own basil for the pesto made at Ashvita, and when you see her passionately advocating and selling Daily Dump’s Kambhas.

Sruti’s interest for the environment meant that Goli Soda was inevitable. It is Chennai’s first (and perhaps one of the few stores in India) to focus on upcycled and environmentally sustainable goods. Goli Soda’s products are carefully curated to offer you quirky colourful ways to lead a more sustainable life – from coasters made of loofahs, to upcycled wallets, poo paper products, organic clothing and of course Krya’s products.

6. goli soda chennai

Goli Soda also sells Eco Femme’s reusable cloth napkins. We catch up with Sruti to chat about Goli Soda, her experience with cloth napkins and why she recommends and sells reusable menstrual products at her store.

 

 I am a film maker, a model and an environmental crusader.

I have felt connected with nature from childhood – girl guides and treks cemented the bond further. The very fact that my roots are in Kerala meant that I was lived a life that was enmeshed with nature. I spent every summer at my grandparent’s home in Kerala where we grew our own vegetables, used plants and herbs to take care of myself like turmeric for my face and hibiscus for my hair.

My love for animals and desire to lead an ethical life deepened my connection with the planet.

I started giving up non vegetarian food, leather and silk at 6. While I come from a vegetarian household, where even eggs are considered non vegetarian, my older sister used to eat chicken when we went out. So I grew up thinking of chicken as food which you ate outside your house, and never connected my eating with an actual bird.

I joined a summer camp at C.P Art centre where we saw films and had workshops of different animals and birds. I then understood what I had been eating was actually a bird with feelings, and decided to give up eating non vegetarian food. I progressively gave up using leather and silk as well.

 

I started Goli Soda for a selfish reason – to give myself access to ethical and sustainable products

I thought that when I retired I would go back to living more with nature – but then I was too impatient to wait. So I started holding workshops at Ashvita to learn more about the sustainable practices I wanted to learn like organic terrace gardening.

4. the otg workshop at ashvita

As the workshops grew, and my access to environmental products grew, starting Goli Soda became imminent. I wanted access to sustainable and ethical products without having to travel far or search extensively for them online. People on FB and other mediums started to share ideas about cool recycled ideas. But these remained as ideas. To actually make the switch, you need the convenience of products. And I figured there would be more people who want this as well. And given our retail background, starting a store focussed on environmentally sustainable and upcycled products came to us naturally.

 

We choose well designed products that are environmentally conscious to sell at Goli Soda.

Goli Soda started mainly as an upcycled store. We wanted people to understand that and that it was okay to reuse something and give it a new lease of life. We are particular about design and quality because of our background in art with Ashvita. We like to choose products with unique design and high quality.

Also, when it comes to environmentally suitable products, people tend to picture them as boring, and dull and not colourful or cool. We are trying to change that mindset and show people that you can be cool and design conscious with eco friendly products. This explains how we choose the products we retail at Goli Soda. They all have to be well designed with good packaging and product design – the two examples that come to mind are Eco Femme’c cloth pads and Oh gourd’s coasters.

We also offer natural cleaning products like the Krya detergent and the Krya dishwash at Goli Soda. Most people are unaware of how much synthetic household cleaners damage the environment. There is a greater awareness of environmental and human damage when it comes to personal care products but very little when it comes to household care and cleaning products. So we prefer to educate our consumers in that area and don’t offer personal care products at the store.

And of course these are products that I look for which is why I retail these. I don’t want anyone to feel compelled to pick up a synthetic detergent or a chemical filled floor cleaner – they have an alternative which works well.

 

I started selling Eco Femme at the store after my positive experience with their reusable cloth napkins.

Diapers and sanitary pads really affect the environment. Every day when I step out of my house I see used pads and diapers and can see cows and dogs eating this. That affected me. I started to educate people about segregating and composting their waste. When I sell people the Kambha, I tell them to segregate their recyclable waste from their food waste. But I used to be stumped when they asked me what to do with their disposable sanitary napkins and diapers.

3. sruti at a kambha demo

A chance conversation led me to consider using Eco Femme reusable cloth napkins. I think Eco femme’s products are brilliant – the packaging is beautiful, and the product experience is awesome. So I had to have them at Goli Soda as well.

 

I started my switch to reusables gradually.

I started with Eco Femme’s panty liner at first. I thought my experience was brilliant. And it was better than disposables because it came with wings – so I had no side spots or staining. I started getting used to washing and caring for the pantyliners. Then I shifted to daypads for normal flow continuing to use disposables for heavy flow. When I got comfortable, I switched completely to reusables.

Now I still use disposables when I travel, but I am in the process of figuring it out. I have been using reusables for a year now – now when I use disposables I find it very uncomfortable.

 

Having switched to reusables, I discovered how uncomfortable disposables really are:

Before I switched, I used to think disposables could handle heavy flow and protect me from accidents better than cloth. Having made the switch, I now know better. I have had staining accidents only with disposables and not reusables. Using reusables has put me in better touch with my body and I’m intuitively able to handle my flow much better.

I am still figuring out how to adapt when I go to shoots, etc. I travel once every 2 – 3 months and sometimes my outdoor film work can stretch upto 6 months in all kinds of places.

Krya note: Sruti’s point about knowing your body better when using reusables is well taken. This is the case across many categories of reusables. Cloth diapering mums find that children on cloth diapers are more conscious of their bodies and adjust to toilet training faster than disposable diapered babies. Using a completely dry disposable, makes you unconscious of your body’s rhythms and cycles and isolates you from your body.

 

I love the comfort and bright colours of reusable cloth napkins.

I am instantly cheered up by the bright colours and designs of the cloth pads and love how comfortable they feel. There is no synthetic plasticky feel; it feels like you are wearing soft, padded underwear. There is no additional, synthetic layer like there is in disposables,

Of course washing and maintaining it takes a small amount of additional time. I prefer to hand wash my pads myself – but of course washing them is quite easy.

 

I ask other women to switch to reusable cloth pads simply for the comfort they provide.

The environment needs people to act now and not talk. I am tired of dinner table conversations about global warming where no change is made at the end. Everyone knows intellectually why eco friendly products are good – but they believe they are uncomfortable to use which is why they do not take to them fast.

 

While I am an environmental crusader, I find people getting on the defensive if I lecture them about their ways. So I focus on the superior feeling of comfort a product like Eco femme’s cloth napkins can have. I always used a disposable – a combo of wood pulp and gel pads. I don’t know any other way apart from disposables. But the minute I switched to a reusable cloth napkin, I felt good.

When I wash out my own blood and do not throw it into a dustbin, I feel more connected to myself. I ask women to transition slowly – so that they understand their flow and gently transition so that they get comfortable with the experience.

 

We’ve had a reasonable rate of success selling reusable cloth pads at Goli Soda.

I found most people are interested in it. For example, when I heard of cloth pads, I had the image of smelly rags in my mind. When I opened up Eco Femme’s pack I loved it. I find this happening to many people at our store. Some come in armed with information and know what to buy; others take back our flyers and mull over the information.

When I’m around, I’m happy to answer questions about my experience as well. Many people follow my advice and transition gradually. Some give up at the pantyliner stage. But many people carry on and make the switch.  And that makes me proud.

 

And it makes us proud too Sruti. To see your work. To shop at your store. And to have Krya associated with you and Goli Soda. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and sharing your experiences.

 

Please do support Sruti’s work at Goli Soda and at Ashvita Nirvana (Chennai’s first PETA certified cafe offering vegetarian and vegan food) by visiting them and by liking their Facebook pages. Ashvita Nirvana has a delicious and sinful vegan menu as well – I recommend the hazelnut chocolate vegan shake!

 

More green period information:

To learn more about how you can consciously and sustainably manage your periods every month, start here:

  1.  Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling Srinivas Krishnaswamy ‘s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita Balasubramanian chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha Subbaraju chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads
  8. Here is the perspective provided by SWaCH on the human rights and social justice issues presented by disposables
  9. Here is the third part of our interview series: this is an interview of Gayathri of Jaioni reusable cloth pads
  10. Here is Preethi Raghav chronicling her switch to reusable menstrual cups.

 

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now. 

 

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It doesn’t go away – conversations with Swach Co-op

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Reading Time: 10 minutes

Julia Butterfly Hill is a U.S environmental activist. She is best known for having lived for 738 days in a 55 meter, 1500 year old California Redwood tree to prevent the loggers from the Pacific Lumber company from cutting it down.

 

5. Julia Butterfly hill

In the context of this piece, Julia Butterfly hill is also known for her rousing and inspiring beliefs and powerful words on what she terms our disposability consciousness. She calls our penchant to use and throw resources that come from fossil fuel reserves and ancient forests, in other words, paper, plastic and disposable napkins, as a weapon of mass destruction.

Julia Butterfly Hill on the disposable economy

Julia also asks us a provocative question: What is away? When we throw things “away” where is away?

In the question of disposable sanitary products and diapers, it is important to ask, who is away? And when we imagine away, who do we imagine is clearing our trash for us?

Last year, after repeated pleas and emails to companies manufacturing sanitary napkins were ignored, SWACH Pune and Stree Mukti Sanghatana from Mumbai took a drastic step. They collected and sent bags of soiled sanitary napkins to the corporate offices of Johnson & Johnson, Hindustan Unilever, Kimberly Clark and Proctor & Gamble – they wanted these companies to understand what it is like for waste pickers to hand pick and collect this waste by hand.

And this is a reality that happens every day across Indian cities.

Waste pickers handle our soiled disposable napkins, which are rarely marked separately and are often mixed with food and recyclable waste. They separate out soiled napkins from useful items by hand, exposing themselves to micro-organisms like E.Coli, salmonella, staphylococcus, HIV and pathogens that cause hepatitis and tetanus.

Because of the hazardous nature of their job, waste pickers can cut themselves when handling broken glass and sharp pieces of metal in the waste. Open, cut skin when exposed to blood soiled napkins or urine soaked diapers can present a very grave health hazard.

The Plastic Waste Management rules formulated by the MOEF in 2011, has included basic provisions asking for extended Producer responsibility when it comes to disposal of products. Producers of goods are responsible for the entire cycle of their products from cradle to grave, and need to provide solutions to help organise waste generated from the use of their products.

We have a conversation with Pratibha of Swach today to understand more.

How SWACH began:

SWACH is India’s first co-operative formed by waste collectors from low income backgrounds. In 1993, waste pickers and waste buyers in Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad came together to form KKPKP (Kaghad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat) a membership based trade union.

The Union was started to improve and establish the important role played by waste pickers in solid waste management and to assert through dialogue, their contribution to the environment. Today KKPKP has 9000 members of which many are from social and marginalised castes.

Each member pays an annual fee to the organisation and an equal amount towards their life insurance cover. Members are given ID cards endorsed by the Pune Municipal Corporation, and have access to benefits like interest free loans and educational support for their children.

4. swach in the pinkathon

KKPKP has done stellar work in helping establish the role of its members in Solid Waste Management. Their study helped quantify the waste picker’s contribution to solid waste management and demonstrated how the recyclable recovery operations carried by their members helped save Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation several crores of rupees in waste handling costs.

In 2005, KKPKP launched a pilot programme in conjunction with PMC, which integrated its waste picker members in door to door waste collection work. This pilot programme paved the way for the genesis of Swach – a wholly owned worker’s co-operative which followed a pro-poor Public Private partnership.

Swach began work in 2006 and became fully operational in 2008. The work under Swach includes door to door waste collection services. Swach Plus is another arm of the venture which includes value added components that help boost income like e-waste collection, composting services, and products like ST dispo bags which we will talk about.

2. Swach plus initiative

 

“We hate reaching into a trash bag and encountering a used diaper or a soiled sanitary napkin”…

When people throw napkins into their domestic waste they don’t stop to think that another human being is sorting through all this waste to remove their recyclables. So they wrap the napkins in any old polythene bag, or don’t wrap it all. Some people wrap the napkins in newspaper, but often this opens up and the dirty napkin is exposed. Yes, we are waste pickers, but there are some things we would not like to touch.’

Another waste picker and Swach member, Shobha Bansode says that she puts plastic bags on her hands when she has to handle sanitary napkins. “That’s the only way I can handle this waste.” She says.

Rajendra Kamble, a Swach member says, “There never has been a uniform method of disposal of these pads. Some people wrap it in paper, some put it in a plastic bag and some just throw it, without putting it in anything. But even if one did wrap it, we had to take it out of the wrapping – the paper or plastic, as the municipal wet garbage truck does not even let one small piece of paper and plastic into it. So at the end of the day, we still have to handle your used napkins no matter how you wrap it.”

In order to prevent waste pickers from direct handling of sanitary pads, Swach members started manufacturing Sanitary Towel Dispo Bags. These bags are made out of old newspapers by the waste pickers of Swach. The bags are minimally priced at Rs. 1 and are made available to citizens, bulk buyers include IT companies, Women’s hostels and our members also provide it as per the request on helpline or as part of their door to door collection. By using these environment friendly bags, citizens not only help in preserving the health and dignity of several waste workers but also contribute to their livelihood.

When our waste pickers see this bag, they know not to open it and keep it aside while sorting through the trash they collect.

We were proud to have been featured on Satyameva Jayate in their episode on solid waste management.

3. swach on satyameva jayate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have been working for 6 years on the problem of appropriate disposal of disposable menstrual pads and diapers.

What began as an effort to avoid direct handling of this waste by waste pickers has over time evolved into a complete campaign to ensure manufacturing companies fulfil their duties under EPR (Extended Producer’s Responsibility) guidelines as included in the Plastic Waste Management Rules.

Swach has taken the first steps in beginning a dialogue with manufacturers and the local government about appropriate disposal of STs, keeping in mind the occupational health issues of waste pickers, and in the light of the EPR. Efforts are also being made at an individual level through the Swach members to convince citizens to use the ST Dispo bags.

We have also been organizing awareness sessions at societies where waste pickers are given a forum to convey to other urban women, how they feel about having to handle soiled napkins, often with their bare hands. Such face-to-face conversations have helped in bringing home the issue and have resulted in genuine change in few societies.

While there is a section of women who have shown a certain resistance in spending that extra bit towards disposal of sanitary pads, many women have shown interest in the issue and have taken up the cause by promoting these bags in societies and encouraging their friends. Also, there are various aspects of ST Dispo Bags, which attracts citizens- besides addressing the health and handling issue of waste workers, some women feel it is quite handy and easy to carry in handbags for safer disposal; some are attracted by the fact that is made from recycled paper.

 

Our engagement efforts with manufacturers of disposable sanitary products have met with less success.

We estimate that more than 4 Lakh Sanitary napkins are used in a city like Pune per menstrual cycle (i.e. every month). This we think is a conservative estimate. The figure could go upto 15 lakh disposable menstrual products every month.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has notified the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 on 4th February, 2011. As per these Rules, in line with the principle of Extended Producer’s Responsibility (EPR), the municipal authority may ask the manufacturers, either collectively or individually to provide the required finance to establish the plastic waste collection centres. The producers are required to finance, and organize a system for environmentally sound management of waste generated from their products. The concept of EPR has been adopted as being practised in various countries, requiring the producers to take responsibility for the end of life of their products and to ensure that the waste from such products is channelized for safe handling.

 

For the last three years, as per the Extended Producer Responsibility, and/or CSR, we have been politely asking manufacturers to take more responsibility towards its post consumer waste. We know that disposable sanitary napkins are being promoted as a healthy option to young women (who might otherwise drop out of school after onset of menstruation). We are also sensitive towards our women members. Both KKPKP and Swach cooperative are both women centric organizations with an 80%+ female membership. The coop is particularly concerned about the health and dignity of women who handle and have to deal with this particularly degrading post consumer waste.

 

We also approached the Pune Municipal Corporation to help with this problem. They took a keen interest in the health of our members. They called for a consultation of elected representatives, active citizens groups and various manufacturing companies but they failed to attend this important meeting.

 

Since the responses from companies were so unsatisfactory, we had to take an aggressive step and on the occasion of international women’s day – March 8th, 2013, we launched our campaign “Send it Back”. A small package of used napkins was sent to the head offices of leading Sanitary Napkin manufacturing companies in India, to make them experience how insulting and revolting it is for waste pickers to handle this waste on a daily basis. The idea was to gauge the urgency of this issue and the need of implementing a mechanism for safer handling of sanitary napkins.

6. send it back campaign

The campaign caught attention and responding to the packages sent to them, a meeting was called in April 2013, by Feminine and Infant Health Association (FIHA) at Pune Municipal Corporation Office to discuss the matter with Joint Commissioner and Swach/KKPKP representatives. They said they require at least 90 days to come up with an action plan. We have still not heard back from them.

But also, more importantly, once we sort through the trash piles, we need to know how to further dispose used and soiled sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. Manufacturers till date have given us no answer to the question “does a sanitary napkin or diaper go into organic waste or recyclable waste or do we put into another category of waste? How should we deal with this waste? “

We also started building public awareness on this issue. Some people’s representatives and Mohalla committees – the citizen’s group have also extended their support and had sent letters to the companies demanding accountability.

Krya’s point of view on this:

While Swach’s initiative to make the disposal of used napkins and diapers more sanitary for their members is certainly laudable, we at Krya feel that this is a stop gap solution. A sanitary napkin wrapped in an ST dispo bag will still reach your landfill, although this time other people would not have had to handle it with their bare hands, in the landfill it will degrade slowly leaching blood, pathogens, and the chemical additives that make up its construction.

And of course appropriate disposal methods still do not address the several grave health concerns that disposable products present. Read more about these here and here.

 

It is also a telling comment that manufacturers have been unable to answer Swach’s very pertinent query on what category of waste soiled disposable sanitary napkins and disposable diapers. We are all aware that they are neither organic waste nor recyclable waste, although the blood, pee and poop that goes into them is organic, and the materials they are made up of (plastic and wood pulp) are in theory recyclable.

 

But the lethal combination of mixing organic material into highly processed and specialised material made from fossil fuel renders a used disposable product like a diaper and sanitary napkin completely un-recoverable. The highly specialised SAAP in diapers and napkins cannot be safely retrieved, cleaned well of organic matter and then reused for another purpose at an efficient cost. This is why corporations are investing in incinerators which are the only way to dispose this material – burn it. Incinerating this material comes with added complications of health and air pollution.

 

Citizens living near landfills like Kodangaiyur and Perungudi, routinely lead demonstrations and protests every time the landfills run the incinerators. They complain of lethal smoke and soot that leave them filling ill. This makes sense given the many weird additives, dioxins and fragrances that go into disposable products.

We believe the true solution will emerge when menstrual waste does not leave your home and is handled by me and you, ourselves.  This becomes possible only if we all give adopting reusable menstrual products a serious thought.

We would like to thank Malti, Aparna and Pratibha of the Swach team who kindly consented to or interview and helped us with their important perspective of disposable products from a solid waste management and human dignity.

The Swach team does amazing work in Pune. Please support their work by “liking” their Facebook page, and reading more about their work and services here. There are opportunities for volunteering with Swach and contributing both your time and money to their work. If you are interested in exploring this please contact Aparna or Pratibha at Swach co-op via email.

The photos on this page of Swach’s work is courtesy Swach Co-op, Pune.

But perhaps the best way to contribute to their work and be the solution, would be to consider adopting reusables. If you would like to know more about the problems of disposables, start here: 

  1. Here’s an introduction to the world of reusables
  2. Here’s where you can find out more about the dangers presented by disposable sanitary products
  3. Here’s a piece chronicling a Man’s perspective on Reusables and Disposable products
  4. And here’s the first part of our Interview series: this is an interview of Lakshmi Murthy of Uger Pads, Udaipur
  5. Here’s Anita chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.
  6. Here’s the second part of our interview series: this is an interview of Kathy & Jessamijn of Eco Femme, Auroville
  7. Here’s Susmitha chronicling how she shifted to reusable cloth pads.

Krya giveaway:

We are going to be giving away 3 cloth sanitary pad starter kits to 3 lucky people: each kit will come in its own reusable cloth bag (for you to shop with) and will contain samples of the Krya detergent along with instructions to wash and care for your cloth pads.

If you would like to win one of these starter kits, all you need to do is this. Follow our posts and updates in this series and tell us one reason why you would like to make the switch to green your period. Head over to our Facebook page to enter now.

 

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