To make one pound of silk involves killing about 2,500 or more silkworms. 30,000-50,000 silkworms are killed to make one six-yard (5.5 m) saree.
The Bombyx mori moths, having fed on mulberry leaves until they grow to 3 in (7 cm) (ten thousand times their original size) are then ready to be harvested.
The worms are boiled or blasted with steam by manufacturers to collect the cocoons, and this process kills the pupae.
In the early 1990s, Kusuma Rajaiah was working in Andhra Pradesh’s handloom department when ex-president of India R Venkatarman’s wife, Janaki, who was on a state visit to the silk manufacturing facilities, asked Rajaiah if silk could be made without killing the worms.
Having studied fibers and filaments at The Indian Institute of Handloom Technology for three years, Rajaiah, a firm believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violence, found a solution enabling the silkworm to emerge out of the cocoon naturally and come out from their metamorphosis and live their fullest life peacefully.
From the pierced cocoons the required yarn is extracted and spun into a fiber for making a fabric which has the same luxurious feel of silk, with a slightly ‘raw’ appearance.
In contrast, the less humane process takes about 15 minutes. The damaged cocoons yield six times less filament, too, doubling the price of conventional silk.
Having created his first sample sarees, Rajaiah commercialised his innovation as Ahimsa Silk or Peace Silk. (Ahiṃsā Sanskrit: अहिंसा is an ancient Indian principle of nonviolence which applies to all living beings)
The government of India granted Rajaiah a 20-year patent in 2002 and trade marks for Ahimsa silk in 2006. It has since been used in designer collections showcased all over the world.
The innovative entrepreneur has also been able to make jersey out of Ahimsa silk, which they now use to make T-shirts and lingerie. Based on Rajaiah’s solution, Prayaag Barooah of FabricPlus, a weaving initiative in Guwahati, Assam, works with about 100,000 rural silk farmers and weavers to manufacturer ahimsa silk. With COVID-19, FabricPlus transitioned to making silk masks.
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