People Tribunal on Weavers of Varanasi and Tanda (Ambedkar nagar)
The weaving industry has traditionally been one of India’s thriving sectors of mass employment. Abundant raw materials and an unlimited supply of cheap labour have contributed to its success in the past. However the previous section showed international trade liberalization and domestic economic reforms have impacted negatively on parts of the sector. Overall, production has stagnated; handlooms have closed down and unemployment soared. Increased imports of cheap textiles from China, rising input prices because of increased export of yarn and mechanization have all contributed to the decline.
Handloom weavers who make traditional items such as Saris, Dhotis, bed sheets and Shawls have been hit the hardest. Out of the 38 million people employed in the weaving industry 12.4 million or close to 33 percent, are concentrated in this declining part of the sector. The majority of them are low caste and extremely poor, working in small family units. More than forty percent of weavers are women.
The Banarasi silk saris made in Varanasi has been famous for centuries for its luxurious, intricately designed cloth. It was the must have for all Indian weddings. More than 600,000 weavers live in and nearby districts of Varanasi, weaving mainly for the domestic market. But since the 1990s, the silk handloom weavers who make the Banarasi saris have been their fortunes vanish.
There are many reasons for the problems facing Varanasi silk weavers: increasing competition from power loom weaving, changes in government protection policies, increasing price of raw silk and shifts in market demand. But in the last five years, an increase in imports of cheaper silk fabrics from China has exacerbated the poverty of Varanasi silk weavers.
Trade liberalization is the driving force of economic globalization, pursued relentlessly by rich nations and international financial institutions at the expanses of the poor world.
The weavers' troubles began way back in 1995-1998 when the Deve Gowda government imposed a ban on Chinese silk yarns. The idea was that Varanasi saris would only be woven from silk yarns from Bangalore. Out of habit or because of its superior quality, some weavers started smuggling Chinese yarn into the holy town. Realizing that their need for Chinese yarn would only grow, the weavers demanded an OGL (open general license).
A chronic power shortage was also crippling their activity but one of the most telling blows was delivered five years ago when the government allowed the free import of Chinese plain crepe fabrics. "This decision brought the entire business to a standstill. Now most customers prefer crepe silk to the traditional Varanasi silk because of its smooth appearance and cheaper price," explains Rajan Bahal, general secretary of Varanasi Vastra Udyog.The flaws of Varanasi silk relating to colour, texture and durability-are not found in Chinese crepe since they are woven in automated looms. "With power availability and government subsidies, the Chinese can afford to sell the finished product at a lower price, giving the traditional Varanasi silk sari tough competition. Chinese silk traders brought cheap yarn to the local market and decided to replicate Varanasi silk by hiring some weavers from Varanasi," The continuous tussle between the Bangalore and Karnataka silk lobby as well as government indifference towards import policy has led to this plight.
In fact, the art of weaving these saris now faces extinction. In Mughal times both Hindu concepts and Muslim ideas were fused to create unique aesthetic designs. The weavers weave the basic texture of the sari on handlooms and power looms-both cottage industries where the entire family is usually involved. Normally one-person weaves while two others work at revolving rings to roll bundles of the yarn. They create a Varanasi speciality yarn motifs.To create these designs, the artist first draws out the entire concept on a graph paper. He then creates small punch cards through which colour threads are passed at different stage as the cards hang on the sides of the loom. Depending on the design, these cards are paddled in a systematic way so that the right pattern and colours are picked up during the main weaving. For a single design, hundreds of such perforated cards are required. A normal sari takes anywhere from 15 days to six months depending on the complexity of the design.
But today estimated five-lakh weavers and their families in Varanasi district are looking for an alternative. Over half have been forced to take up menial jobs like pulling rickshaws. Several have opened tea stalls and paan shops. Others are closed their flourishing businesses and migrated to Bangalore and Hyderabad where they work in looms and help in dyeing and embroidery work. "At least they are better off, but you need money to migrate and contacts too. Here we are all left to starve and die," now days nearby 5 lakhs weavers are in Varanasi and 40 thousand in Tanda of Ambedkar nagar District who are still fighting for the bread for twice a day. There the rate of cases of malnutrition and starvation is too high.
For making force and pressure on India government as well as international authorities PVCHR, AHRC and Action Aid International are going to organize People’s Tribunal on Weavers of eastern UP for understanding the present situation and solution for reviving the weaving industry on the 16 November, 2007 under the chairpersonship of Mr. John Joseph Clancey, chairperson of Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) at Varanasi.
We are inviting in people’s tribunal on weavers of eastern UP.
Waiting your kind response.
With warm Regards,