The recent ban on women wearing patterned rachu (scarf for women) other than only Ada Rachu by the culture officers of the Home Ministry has not only drawn criticism, but has also affected the businesses of those who depend on weaving and selling rachus as their livelihood.
Hundreds of textile and handicraft shops, in Thimphu alone, have patterned rachus in their shops for sale. Many of the shopkeepers had placed orders to procure more pattern rachus from weavers before the new rule came into force.
At the same time many Bhutanese women who have purchased expensive silk rachus with intricate patterns and silk embroidery works, costing huge amounts of money, are left wondering what to do with their rachus now.
One prominent Bhutanese textile dealer called Thridung Nima Namza located at the heart of Thimphu city said that after the new rule, no customer has come looking for the patterned rachus.
The shop still has silk rachus with prices ranging from Nu 1500 to Nu 8000.
“We stopped placing orders for patterned rachus and I hope the tourists buy those we have in our shop,” said the owner of Thridung Nima Namza.
The primary raw material for most of the rachus is silk, which is imported. It is then hand woven by skilled weavers with intricate but delicate designs and patterns. Some are embroidered by hand to bring out a splendid motif. An average of two to three months is required to complete weaving each rachu.
The cheapest of such rachus cost at least Nu 5000 in the capital city Thimphu. The best designs fetch more than Nu 10,000.
The rachus woven from cotton or synthetic materials cost a minimum of Nu 1500 to 5000 depending on the complexity of the pattern woven.
At the same time a handicraft owner at the Craft Bazaar, Kencho, said that even without any rules in place, most women preferred wearing Ada Rachu. He said he saw equal purchase being made of Ada Rachu and other rachu designs.
“Women who like Ada Rachu and the patterned Rachu are of equal number,” he said, adding, “If the rule is intended for preserving culture, then the patterned rachus should also receive the same treatment as it is also a part of Bhutanese culture.”
Phunsum Handicraft owner said that it is a big blow to the handicraft business, especially to those that have the expensive patterned rachus in stock “Ever since the new rule was issued, I am unable to sell the patterned rachus at my shop,” she said.
Hence, she added that after all the time and money invested in weaving and procuring the rachus, the sudden ban on wearing such rachus is causing a huge loss to the people engaged in this business.
Also, for many women weavers weaving rachu is an alternative source of income from time immemorial.
Owner of Deechap Handicraft that deals in all kinds of rachus said that a woman normally owns two to three different types of rachus in her wardrobe. She said, “If different rachu varieties are not allowed then there should be an alternative use prescribed for it.”