Weavers of Varanasi are struggling
New Delhi: Ali Husain
Ansari, a weaver of embroidered Mughal textiles and owner of Abdul
Ghani Silk in Varanasi town of northern India, says he has not
benefited from the government's financial package for weavers
announced in December 2011.
"All the money sanctioned by the government has gone to
cooperative societies. The poor weaver still makes less than
Rs.200 ($4) a day and does not have enough assets for loan
guarantee," Ali told IANS at an event here.
Traditional Indian handloom textiles may have made international
fashion statements, but their estimated over 5 million creators in
villages across the country are battling shrinking resources,
under-exposure and loss of livelihood.
The commerce and industry ministry had announced a Rs.2,350 crore
package for weavers to bail weavers out of distress. But the
weavers say government packages to bail them out have passed them
Husain said hundreds of Mughal textile weavers in Varanasi and in
the villages around it have switched to pulling rickshaws to fend
He and thousands of his fellow weavers in Varanasi depend on "resham"
threads from "Korea" and yellow "tussar" from China. "Their prices
fluctuate between Rs.1,680 and Rs.4,500 (per bale). A loan of
Rs.25,000 to 50,000 is not enough," he said.
The muga weavers of Assam are fighting against farm pesticides
that are killing muga silk worms in their habitats in Upper Assam.
Muga, one of the costliest and rarest varieties of silk, is known
as "the golden fibre of Assam".
"The volume of fibre extracted from silkworms has decreased over
the years with muga worms dying of chemcials that farmers in Upper
Assam spray in their fields," weaver and crafts actvist Kusum
Lashkar, who manages the NGO Shanti Sadhana Ashram in Guwahati,
The effect of the pesticides spreads far and wide and destroys
silk farms. "The constrained production has led to an increase in
prices of muga silk by almost 50 percent," Lashkar claimed. The
muga weavers of Assam have been facing a demand-supply gap over
the last few years, the weaver said.
Such tales of neglect, poverty and poor impelmentation of
government projects at the grassroots fought for attention with a
colourful spread of handloom products at "Kargha Yagya" at the
sprawling Gandhi Smriti Feb 23. The textile showcase was in memory
of Kasturba Gandhi, the woman who spun the charkha alongside her
husband Mahatma Gandhi.
An unknown community of sheep wool weavers in Jharkhand - the
Behriyar-Gareriya nomads from the Gaya district in Bihar - has
almost given up its traditional craft of blanket weaving for lack
"We weave blankets from sheep wool collected from our herds of
sheep. But the state government (the state handloom and handicraft
corporation Jharcraft) has turned its face away from us and we
cannot compete with the blankets being sold in the markets. Our
blankets cost Rs.300 each in the market while each blanket costs
Rs.350 to weave. We are forced to sell our products in villages
because of limited access to urban markets," weaver Kundan Bhagat
The community of 75 wool weavers' families lives in two villages -
Mahwawdavan and Barawad in Madhupur block. Bhagat, whose family
owns a herd of 500 sheep, says "the near-death of the blanket
weaving tradition has killed the barter system of economy that
helped the villagers sustain".
Ajay Singh, a weaver from Bhagalapur in Bihar, known as India's
silk city, said "the government should work directly with
communities of weavers in villages for holistic welfare of the
He demanded a "residential school for the childern of weavers
where they would learn their native tongue, the national language
and an international language to compete in the global market".
Mohammed Mominul Islam and Riaz-ul-Haq, silk weavers and textile
designers from Malda in northern West Bengal, complain of poor
accessibility to markets and design interventions.
"This is our first visit to Delhi. We realised after coming here
that saris are not in demand in northern India; girls prefer silk
'salwar-kameez'. We have to improvise on our range to make
textile-lengths for 'salwar-kameez'," Islam told IANS.
Malda produces 80 percent of Bengal's silk in three clusters -
Sujapur, Jalalpur and Kaliachowk.
"People have forgotten the Gandhian lesson - production by mass
for mass. Buyers would rather go to malls for designer labels.
They should have access to more markets, resources and raw
material," said Manimala, director of the Gandhi Smriti and Gandhi
Darshan at Rajghat in the capital.
Citing statistics, Manimala said, "The country has nearly 25 lakh
(2.5 million) handlooms employing 50 lakh (5 million) people and
about 60 percent of them subist below the poverty line".
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)