“The condition of most #weavers in #Varanasi has deteriorated due to the lowering of wages and increasing health problems,” says Lenin Raghuvanshi, who heads Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (#PVCHR), a non-profit.
Of late, Varanasi has been witnessing a new culture: the widening influence of gaddidar or broker. Idris Ansari, a weaver from Lallapura area, says Varanasi had four markets—Chowk, Lohta, Peeli Kothi, and Bajardiha. While Peeli Kothi dealt mainly with pure silk saris, the others traded in silk as well as synthetic and cotton saris. “We had direct access to these markets where we would meet the buyers, get a sense of the designs they like, and sell our products,” says Idris. But these days the gaddidar coordinates with the buyers, decides the design, and thereby controls the market. They also provide capital to poor weavers for buying yarns and other raw materials, he says, adding that 500-600 gaddidars control the entire trade in Varanasi. Last year, Idris had to sell off his handloom machine after he failed to repay his loan to a gaddidar.
Weavers get exploited because they depend on the gaddidar for the sale and marketing silk fabrics, says Raghuvanshi.
Historically, says Raghuvanshi, sari making as a craft flourished in Varanasi due to the humid weather on the banks of the Ganga, considered ideal for working on silk. “The trade prospered as a result of the syncretic tradition between the Hindus and Muslims. Hindus traded the saris, while Muslims weaved them,” he adds. Post Independence, the trade shifted from the rich to poorer communities, such as the Dalits, and the scope of the exploitation increased.
While activists like Rao and Raghuvanshi still believe a positive intervention by the Union textiles ministry can help save the sector, most weavers say they will be obliterated if they have to depend on the gaddidars. “I am educating my grandchildren so that they can negotiate well for our community with the brokers. For years, they took advantage of our illiteracy and that needs to be fixed urgently,” says Bibi.
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