Manipur's Directorate of Handloom & Textiles has written to the Union Ministry of Textiles, urging it to stop production of an indigenous cloth of the north-eastern state that is purportedly being manufactured on a mass scale and under a different brand name in Uttar Pradesh (UP) in a bid to safeguard local weavers' interests.

K Lamlee Kamei, director, Handloom & Textiles department, Manipur, has written the letter to the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, Ministry of Textiles, pointing out the cultural and economic significance of the cloth, which was being widely publicised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address to the nation on April 14 on extending with the lockdown restrictions due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak. The PM also wore it during his address to the nation on the occasion of the Independence Day on August 15, 2019, and several other public events as well, the letter said.

The letter cited that the traditional 'Leirum Phee' designed as official 'Lengyan' (muffler) has cultural, historical, and emotional importance for the people from Manipur. The directorate has started the process of acquiring a geographical indication (GI) tag for 'phee', which means cloth in Manipur's Meitei language, but the Covid-19 outbreak has stalled the process.

On Saturday, a video started doing the rounds on social media that purportedly showed the production of 'Leirum Phee Lengyan', which was identified as a 'gamcha', in a power loom-run textile manufacturing unit in UP's Barabanki district.

Manipuri weavers and locals took exception to the mass production of what they claimed to be a product indigenous to their state and raised concerns about their loss of livelihood because it's production has been undertaken at an industrial in UP, the country's most populous state.

Several social and civil society organisations, including Ethno Heritage Council, ACOAM-Lup, Kangleipak, Handlooms Promotion Council, Manipur, and All Manipur Ethnical Socio-Cultural Organisation, also urged the state government and the authorities concerned to safeguard the traditional 'Leirum Lengyan' and get it registered as intellectual property of Manipur.

The production of traditional 'Leirum Phee' had started during the reign of the Manipuri king Loyumba in 1074-1112 AD, the letter said.

'Leirum Phee' is woven on a handloom and used mandatorily during the Meitei community's wedding ceremonies.

The more popular 'Leirum Phee' was officially used in the first India ASEAN Motor Car Rally in 2004, the letter said.

'Leirum Phee' has been used as a symbol in the state on every sociocultural occasion since the 2004 event, it added.

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