Surrounded by beautiful shades of colors, designs and studying about endless masterpiece of textiles I graduated as a textile designer. It was my first job and my first project. More than holding a final piece of fabric in my hand I love to witness the process involved in each step. So I was extremely curious to see my designs getting transferred from paper to fabric.

For this I decided to take a tour to Sanganer, a town extremely famous for its naturally dyed hand block and Calico prints since 16th century. Throughout my journey from Jaipur to Sanganer I was dreaming of a block print unit with long tables, beautifully hand carved blocks, colorful trays of natural dyes and artisans creating delicate fabrics.

However, this dream turned into a nightmare as I reached the unit. The place was more of an unfinished building and less of a unit with broken doors, unpainted walls, unhygienic washrooms and filthy pathways. In the month of June when temperature reaches its threshold, the place hardly had any fan. As I stepped into the work place my shoes got stuck in a puddle of bright yellow chemical dye which soon got mixed with the puddle of other colored chemicals. The floor was a mix of mud and colored scum on which stood the dyeing tables holding trays of bright chemical dyes.

After the introduction and heavy use of chemical dyes the artisans hardly get any market for their naturally dyed art form, due to which they work for rich exporters in cheap wages and mimic their art in chemical dyes. Unknowing the presence of heavy metals such as chrome, copper and zinc these artisan turned labors were busy with the production work. With the same hand they had their tea along with some snacks, unaware of the hazardous chemicals that they were consuming with it.

After developing those colorful fabrics which would soon be exported in high price, they were taken to a small tank for washing. Instead of treating this chemical water into a treatment plant, it was directly dumped into a nearby flowing water body causing a huge threat to aquatic life. I saw a herd of buffaloes drinking that same polluted water and the situation seemed to be grimmer when I found out that the villagers get their drinking water from the same water body. This leads to an active intake of harmful chemicals in the body of animals and humans which is a major cause of many allergies and diseases including cancer. Not only is this, the vegetation around this area was irrigated with the same infected water which was further sold in the entire city and consumed by all.

After seeing this dark side of the beautiful textiles I thought to share this situation through this article. The textiles that we wear, sleep on, wipe ourselves and use with intimacy can act as slow poisons which can engulf us and our environment. As a conscious being we should try to minimize the use of chemically dyed fabrics and should turn towards handloom and natural dyes.

Instead of allowing these big foreign brands to bite our pocket we should promote our age old handicrafts and handloom. This will not only provide bread and butter to the artisans but will also preserve our heritage, environment and we will be able to appreciate the beauty of textiles without compromising our health.

Disha Khati