So-called “Ahimsa Silk”

Every now and then some one informs Beauty Without Cruelty about “Ahimsa Silk” or “Ahimsa Peace Silk” produced by Kusuma Rajaiah (a technical officer of the Andhra Pradesh State Handloom Cooperative Society) and we have to explain how it is NOT ahimsak. Beauty Without Cruelty therefore investigated the production by visiting Kusuma Rajaiah and accompanying him to the Sericulture Federation at Dharmavaram and seeing exactly how and which cocoons are used to produce this so-called “Ahimsa Silk” or “Ahimsa Peace Silk”.

Crushed and Discarded
At the Sericulture Federation run by the State Government there are two varieties of cocoons: FR (foreign race) and LR (local race). The FR cocoons obtained from Bangalore are cream in colour and reel longer filaments as compared to the golden yellow LR cocoons. Moths are allowed to break through these FR and LR cocoons and made to mate. The resultant cross bred cocoons are pale gold in colour and the male moths that emerge first are smaller than the females.

On emerging from the cocoons, male and female moths are kept together for three hours to mate. The females are then segregated and placed in trays to lay eggs. The males are put into the refrigerator and kept in a semi-frozen condition and brought out again and again to mate. After their power to mate diminishes they are thrown away in the dustbin and linger to death.

The females that have laid eggs are immediately ground in a mixer and their crushed bodies checked under a microscope. If any disease is detected, the hundreds of eggs they just laid are also destroyed immediately.

The eggs produced and passed are sold to farmers who rear them into silk worms/caterpillars that develop into cocoons.

Similarly, a designer has tried to revive the Bhagalpur handloom industry of Bihar by promoting this silk as “cruelty-free, eco-friendly and non-violent because the silk worm is not killed” (sic). He says the wild cocoons are kept for 10 to 15 days till the “worms emerge”… but he does not say what happens to the worms or moths… how many are crushed to check for diseases and how many are thrown out for birds to peck at. The fact is that such silk is positively grey- not green-fashion as claimed.
Reared to be Killed
The farmers place the eggs that hatch into larvae/caterpillars in bamboo baskets and feed them mulberry leaves for about four weeks. As they grow the caterpillars change colour from white to a golden brown and develop holes on both sides of their mouths. From one hole they exude a thread like substance called the fibroin (raw silk) and from the other sercin (bonding gum). The two components harden upon contact with air, forming the basic silk filament, which is a combination of two fibres, held together by the gum. The caterpillar oozes out the fibroin continuously for about a thousand yards over two to four days, forming an oval nest called a cocoon around its body to protect itself before its transition from caterpillar to chrysalis to moth. To emerge, the chrysalis cuts open its cocoon in about fifteen days.

For conventional silk production, the chrysalis is boiled alive in its cocoon by the seventh or ninth day so that a continuous filament is obtained and there is no break while being reeled. A place where family members were boiling the cocoons in huge earthen pots from which they were reeling the silk on a hand-made wooden reeling machine was also visited. It was observed that as soon as the cocoons started to boil, the sericin (gum) started separating from the fibroin (raw silk) and the filament was said to be ready for reeling. This is called filament silk and for which the chrysalis is alive and growing inside the cocoon when its life is cut short by being boiled to death. About fifty thousand such cocoons are boiled for making one saree.

If however the cocoon is allowed to mature into a chrysalis and moth emerges, the silk that is produced from the punctured cocoons is called spun silk and this is what Kusuma Rajaiah claims to be ahimsak.

However the silk is NOT ahimsak because the moths that emerge are all deformed, are unable to fly so writher and die. Each and every punctured cocoon used for this so-called “Ahimsa Silk” or “Ahimsa Peace Silk” represents suffering and death of one moth. It is no different to conventional silk for which each cocoon boiled also represents the death of one life. And let it not be forgotten that to obtain as little as a hundred grams of pure silk, approximately fifteen hundred live chrysalises are boiled and in the case of punctured cocoons almost twice as many moths die.

There can be no difference between boiling a developing life inside a cocoon, crushing fully grown moths to death or torturing (by storing in refrigerator) and then discarding them in the dustbin to wither and die.

The moths that emerge are all discarded and the cut cocoons are sold and new eggs are bought by farmers. The entire cycle of breeding and rearing is thus repeated.

To sum up:

• This particular breed of silkworm is cultivated for commercial purposes only.
• Due to continuous inbreeding over generations the bodies of the moths that emerge are far too heavy in proportion to their wings and so they are unable to move, leave alone fly.
• The female moths are crushed to death in a mixer and if found diseased, the hundreds of eggs laid by them are also destroyed.
• The male moths are stored in a refrigerator and taken out for mating and put back a couple of times after which they are thrown away in the dustbin where they wither and die.

Concluding comparison

• In conventional silk the worm within the cocoon is killed and is part of the silk produced.
• In so-called “Ahimsa Silk” or “Ahimsa Peace Silk” although the cocoons used contain no worms, the moths that emerged from them are destroyed.

• Either way at least 1500 lives are lost for just 100 grams of silk.

Beauty Without Cruelty has therefore come to the firm conclusion that no silk unless purely artificial, made of yarn such as polyester, can ever be truly ahimsak.

Page last updated on 24/11/14