In spite of the flourishing trade, the weaver of the ‘dream’ sarees lives a nightmarish existence of abject poverty.
Lohta, a cluster of villages with a significant weaver population is located about 10 kilometers from the city of Varanasi. Many weavers have had to leave the city and move to places like this, as survival in the city was impossible. Things are not better here either.
Lali Rajbhar, 65, an unemployed weaver, with his family. His wife and daughters earn a meager living by making incense sticks. Many weavers are being forced to give up this centuries old craft and take up other low paying jobs.
Asim Ali, 15, earns less than a dollar a day as a hired laborer in a loom. Lack of education and alternative employment opportunities force children to continue in their fathers’ trade.
To reduce cost of production weavers feel compelled to involve their children in various aspects of the work. In the most desperate situations, children can be hired or sold for very little money or against a loan extended to their parents, starting a cycle of bonded labour.
The eldest in his family, 12 year old Pattu Ansari does not go to school but learns his father’s trade at a loom, earning 80 cents a week.
Pattu Ansari’s mother Rukhsana, spends hours on end laboring to finish an already woven saree for 30 cents a day, while one of her four children, who is malnourished, entertains himself. The exploitation of women as free or cheap labor subsidizes the entire Banarasi saree industry.
Rukhsana’s youngest child, Imran died a month after this image was taken. He was four months old and acutely malnourished. 50 % of weaver’s children suffer from malnutrition raising questions about the Government’s Integrated Child Development Services program whose objective is to reduce incidence of mortality, morbidity and malnutrition among 0-6 years children
Abdul Kalam, 32, incurred a huge debt to pay for the treatment of his severely malnourished two year old son. Though the child’s condition was reported in the news, no aid was forthcoming
Mohammed Yakub, 35 with his family, sitting on the only piece of furniture they own. His three year old son, Tayammul has cerebral edema and is in extreme pain. He earns 80 cents a day and cannot afford his son’s medical treatment.
Tausifa Noor, had been suffering from cerebral edema since birth. Though three years old, she couldn't walk yet. She died a few weeks after this image was taken. Her parents earn 80 cents a day and could not afford the treatment, which would have cost USD 5000.
After Naazra Khatoon’s husband, a weaver, died, the family’s condition deteriorated to such an extent that her 14 year old daughter and 3 year old son succumbed to starvation. The government came to her aid only after the deaths of her children created a furor.
Like others Naseem Akhtar, 24, started weaving since he was a child. Now in his most productive years he is unable to work having contracted tuberculosis, a common ailment amongst the weavers caused due to breathing in fibres and dust from the fabrics they work with. Lohata has 100,000 cases of TB, unusually high even for India with an estimated 2.4 million cases.
The loom system is partially embedded into the ground and a pit is made for the weaver to keep his legs. The long hours and varying temperature in the pit results in serious damage to the lower part of the body, leading a weaver to remark: “Handlooms today are the graves of living people."
Write up by: Reshma Pritam Singh
I am Rohan Juierie, and I am a Documentary Photographer. I have a formal education in Film Making. Photography is self-taught and began on one of my travels. In 2004, I was 18, I was still in Film school and it was my first time away from home alone. I carried a camera. I went with the flow not wanting to have a fixed agenda as such. The road took me to border villages in Kashmir and Ladakh. I was glad the camera gave me an opportunity to meet new people since I've always been a shy person. I simply shot what I encountered and came back home with 50 rolls of film, much more than what I had ever shot. They were all photographs of people I'd met, with only a few landscape shots. Though I liked the latter, what moved me most were the images of the people and their lives. I knew then that I wanted to pursue Documentary Photography.
Over the years, I've realised the importance of documentary work in my life. It allows me to see the less obvious aspects of life and get an insight into the lives of others. It has also taught me to be more accepting and kind; not to take my life and opportunities for granted.
Photography is important to me to establish a sense of belonging with the world. Without the camera, I'm just another pessimist. The camera allows me to view people without my prejudices and judgements. Though their suffering is theirs alone, it is also universal. Thus it became my mission to confront human suffering through beauty, not as an end to all suffering, but an attempt to redeem it.
I do self-assigned projects full-time. I work part-time with NGO's and corporate clients to fuel my documentary projects.