Saturday, August 18, 2007

Weavers fall prey to adverse conditions
24 Jul 2007, 0444 hrs IST ,TNN
LUCKNOW: Deep in the labyrinth of stucco buildings, in a dark cave like warehouse, Mohammed Javen once spent his days weaving golden and silver flowers across exquisite silk sarees in Sarai Mahona weavers locality of Varanasi.

Today he carries bricks at a construction site in city suburbs.

"Javen is brave enough to bid adieu to his family business, as many who reached their end soon after failing to find a job in the silk producing units of Varanasi," said Aftab Ansari of Bunkar-Dastkar Adhikaar Manch. Take the example of sixty-year-old Quasim, who was known for the finesse in zari borders on silk sarees. The man had been a weaver since the age of ten but went virtually jobless since early in 2007.

For over five months he and his family survived by selling whatever belongings and utensils they had. One night in May this year, Quasim and his family could not stand hunger. "Unable to bear the pain of his children, Quasim went out of his house never to return home again. His family filed an FIR. Quasim's body was found later in the nearby well," he recalled with tears in his eyes.

A 20-year-old Neeraj Patel, too, consumed poison failing to find a job, said another weaver Siddique Hasan. This native of Lallahpur weavers's locality, had the burden of two younger brothers, an ailing mother and father.

"For over two months he went out in search of a job. Once, he was humiliated by the gaddidaar (weaver exporter). The boy was shattered and bought a toxic substance on his way back home. He quietly consumed the poison to relieve himself from the humiliation," Hasan confided.

"Silk from the dragon land has invaded our territory and we are striving hard to meet two ends," rued Aftab Ansari, adding, "technology and fashion, too, are our enemy. The burden of credit makes matters worse." Notably, there are three categories of weavers - gaddidars or rich weavers, weavers (those who take a loom on rent for weaving) and weaver labourers. Among all, weaver labourers are the worst affected.

There are over two lakh weavers in and around Varanasi. But less than 55,000 get a job in a year leaving the remaining 1.5 lakh weavers jobless.

"Almost all weavers are either low caste Hindus or Muslims — the two communities which have been marginalised by the upper caste. Illiteracy is another problem which pushes the weavers to seek help from money lenders and credit-giving gaddidars. Not to forget the evil of government apathy," Lenin Raghuvanshi, an activist working for the upliftment of weavers, says.

People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) which has been following the issue closely found that in the last three years, over 50 adults and children from weaving families have starved to death instead of enduring poverty. With each passing day, the skilled hands of weavers are being engaged in other jobs such as driving rickshaw, selling vegetables, laying roads and even begging.

Weaver's aren't alone to bear the brunt, the condition of their family is worse. "Tuberculosis and malnutrition is common," Uttkarsh a research scholar studying 'quality of life of weavers in Varanasi' said. An typical example is the case of Iqbal's parents who went to their graves not knowing that they were entitled to free anti-tubercular medicines.

That's not all, 50 percent of children in weaver families are malnutritioned, concluded pilot survey conducted NGOs in some of the weaver communities. "In blatant violation of Supreme Court orders, a number of children can be seen tosurvive on a mere bowl or two of plain rice and some bread. Some times they get nothing at all," said an activist.

Under such circumstances, education is a distant dream. "What do you expect a weaver to do with such a meagre earning of Rs 35-40 per day? Buy medicines, food or send his children to school," asked Aftab. But after a few seconds, he said, "I just pray that things will improve."

No comments: