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.

In order to promote silk among Jains and vegans the Maharashtra state government in December 2018 declared that like Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand it wanted to start adhyatmik silk and was launching a Resham Yatra to popularise sericulture.
Wild Silk

It is claimed that the Eri wild silk worm is not killed to extract the yarn. Apparently, the cocoons utilised are from which the moths have flown out in the wild and are collected. But the yarn from it is too thick and unsuitable to weave silk attire so a factory in Odisha in Raipur (Bhadrak district) has managed to create thin fabrics from it. The technique has being adopted at Rautapada village in Khordha district on experimental basis.

As 88 metres long Khandua Pata represents the death of 4 to 6 lakh Tassar silkworms, in May 2023 the Handlooms Textiles and Handicrafts department decided to procure the Khandua Pata for the Holy Trinity in Puri Srimandir produced using the above stated technique.

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” or “adhyatmik 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.
Matka and Endi/Errandi Silks

Matka and endi/errandi are generic names for this variety of silk which were first investigated by BWC:

In order to continue the production of eggs certain pupae are allowed to hatch. He silk moth emerges from the cocoon after having cut through the silk thread – that is how the word “matka” is evolved meaning “muh kata” or cut by mouth. However having been bred in captivity over a period of many years these moth lose their natural instinct to fly.

After mating, the female moth lays eggs. In order to ascertain that the eggs are free of disease, the female moth is crushed and checked under a microscope. If any disease is detected, the eggs laid by that particular moth are immediately destroyed.

The male moths are thrown out of the factory at a particular time each ay. Birds of prey, mostly crows, wait to eat them bit by bit – an agonizing death. There is no escape since the moths can not fly and the few that might be able to fly would not be capable of flying fast enough or oaring long distances.

In view of the above, silk spun from the cocoons of moths which have emerged called “matka” or “endi/errandi” silk, can not be justifiably be called “ahinsak” silk. It makes no difference whether life is destroyed in the pupae stage or at the moth stage.

Cocccon that produces silk in Jharkhand has on its websites stated that “In the making of silk, cocoons are pierced and trimmed so that the butterfly can fly away and not be scalded in boiling water.” It is but obvious that if cocoons are pierced and trimmed the life inside could not have formed sufficiently to immerge and fly away. Instead of boiling them to death as in the case of conventional silk, the cocoons containing moths (not butterflies) are pierced and trimmed to death. Such silk can not be termed vegan or ethical. Peace and Ahimsa and Non-Violence are false projections. Organic and vegan are not synonyms. Sustainable indicates continuous supply which arises from rearing (for killing) which is absolutely no different to factory farming of animals.

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 12/07/23