Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Social Marginalisation in Urban India and the Role of the State

For years, Varanasi's handloom silk industry has served millions of people: the industry has given livelihood to a large proportion of the local and regional population, and it has provided for the needs of consumers from all over the world for silk fabric. Recently, however, a number of problems have emerged which have led to a decline in the industry and, consequently, the lives of the handloom workers. These challenges facing the community engaged in making handloom silk fabrics include the huge influx of cheap Chinese silk material, the threat from the Surat silk market, the changing tastes of the younger generation, and 7 inappropriate trade policies. Discussions with handloom weavers living in Bazardiha locality of Varanasi revealed their concerns. A major threat to their livelihood is the growth in the number of power (electric) looms. Due to their weak economic condition, many weavers are unable to shift from handloom to power loom and thus fall behind in silk weaving and, thus, their daily earnings. Those using power loom earn, on average, up to 10 times more in a day. The second problem relates to the price at which design cards are sold in the market. Weavers use computer-generated design cards to print innovative designs on the silk fabric. Each card normally costs INR300 (US$ 4.73) and lasts for two to three years. Many users say that the cards are being sold at a prohibitive price of INR 900 (US$ 14.18). The weavers maintain that these cards should be made available at subsidised prices. Weaving by handloom workers is done within the house. The weavers work continuously for long hours and are highly dependent on stable supply of electricity. Often, though, power supply is erratic, leaving the work at a standstill. A visit to some houses showed the weavers' harsh working conditions, including poorly built and serviced structures situated in unplanned areas. Dissatisfaction was also expressed over the progress of government welfare schemes meant for handloom weavers. A handloom scheme was announced by the government as far back as in 2008 but the benefits did not reach the target groups. Again in 2014, an announcement was made for establishment of a trade facilitation centre and crafts museum to revitalise the traditional textile industry; this has yet to come to fruition. The workers suggest that social audit practices be used to ensure that such government schemes are implemented effectively
In Varanasi, government schemes aimed at the upliftment of the lives of handloom weavers have largely failed. Despite these initiatives‑such as granting identity cards, credit cards, and health insurance‑many workers are struggling to make a living. First of all, weavers are often unaware of the government schemes due to insufficient publicity. The city-based People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (#PVCHR) has expressed concern over the decline of the silk industry due to a variety of reasons, including unbearable input costs and exploitation by middlemen. A situation analysis of the life led by #handloom #weavers by PVCHR reveals presence of abject poverty, chronic malnutrition, changes in profession, and incidence of suicides. It has also been projected that if timely interventions are not made, the handloom silk industry faces more 9 hardships in the coming years. Failure in ensuring proper access to entitlements by the concerned authorities creates a general feeling of distrust in government. Such distrust can lead to unrest. This has been observed in Ahmedabad, for example, where the situation became extremely tense at the time of the slum demolition along the Sabarmati river because many families were not given a place to go prior to eviction. Anticipating conflict, the authorities 10 deployed a huge police force. With respect to Pune,  Cantú has identified a number of factors that, if left ignored, could generate spatial civic conflict, such as failure of government in reserving and/or acquiring land for low cost housing, slum demolitions and relocation to provide space for road expansion and parking, and lack of social inclusion provisions in the city's development plan. And in Varanasi, human rights activists caution that fundamentalist groups could exploit the unrest among handloom silk weavers to foment ethnic conflict.

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