Evergreen Pains of the weaver community in Modi’s constituency

Varanasi, Abu Zafar, (India Tomorrow): Walking through the narrow and filthy lanes of Bazardiha one may not recognize that it is a part of the same Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency which was represented by former Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and in the 16th Lok Sabha it will be represented by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Evergreen Pains of the weaver community in Modi’s constituency

Evergreen Pains of the weaver community in Modi's constituency

Varanasi, one of the historic and rich cities of eastern Uttar Pradesh, has several small and medium scale industries with good connectivity to other states and cities through train and bus. It also has several prosperous institutions and religious places like Banaras Hindu University, Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Gyan Vapi Mosque and Dashashwamedh Ghat. From good roads to multi-story building, shopping malls, it has all that a good city should have. But if you want to visit Bazardiha, auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws would rarely agree to take you there. The reason is very simple because they have to spend more time in riding because most of the roads leading to Bazardiha village in Sevapuri Tehsil of Varanasi district are broken and filled with water and mud. The area, which has a population of more than two lakh people – more than 90 percent of them Muslims, is known as a hub of weavers in Varanasi. But it has other identities as well. Sometimes these ‘other’ identities are more convincing for people who visit here from rest part of Varanasi to recall Bazardiha. They remember Bazardiha as an area which has power outage, filthy and broken streets and unemployed youths. Most families depend on earning from handlooms but according to them for the past decade though they had worked hard but earned very little. Due to unhealthy work environment and lack of resources and health services the number of diseases is high.

Children are often seen working and cases of drug consumption among youngsters are rising. Several cases of suicide and hunger death have also been reported during last couple of years. Millions of lovers of shinning and marvelous Banarasi saris across the globe may not know the fact that the conditions of weavers who make so beautiful saris are so pitiable. Another interesting fact is that most of the people who wear Banarasi saris belong to the Hindu community but most of its weavers belong to the Muslim community. It was May 2013 when the plight of the local weaver community came into limelight when two children, Shabeena (14) and Murtuza (3.5) died due to malnutrition in Bazardiha. Their father Abdul Khaliq had died 10 months ago due to several diseases. After this incident members of civil society groups approached several government officials and then Nadira, mother of kids, got a Below Poverty Line Ration Card to get monthly grain supply from the government on subsidized rates. Local people hoped that the then sitting MP, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi would visit the victim family but he didn’t show up. There is a high level of tuberculosis, particularly Multi Drug Resistance Tuberculosis (MDTRB) reported in the area. Ghazala Qamar, an activist associated with People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, alleged that all governments have neglected the area. “People of Bazardiha are facing lots of problems. There is only one government health centre but it is too small and works only four hours a day. Child delivery mostly happened in homes or they have to go to hospitals far from their homes. No government is serious about problems of Bazardiha people,” Qamar told India Tomorrow. She said some of nearby towns have better facilities than what we have in Bazardiha. Basic government services like banking and education are also rare in the area and people have to depend on local moneylenders for loan.
Several families have huge debts on them which lead to various diseases like blood pressure and depression and sometimes it leads to even suicide. “There is neither a single bank nor an ATM. There is only one school which has only three teachers for 180 students,” Qamar substantiates. Due to poverty and lack of resources they are exploited by masters and owners, known as gaddidar, because these gaddidars set the market rate and pay less to the weavers. Abdul Qadir, a weaver, says he earns less than a daily wage labourer. “The level of market is declining day by day. Earlier we used to get Rs 900 for a set of work but now it is hard to get more than Rs 600,” Qadir told India Tomorrow in helpless voice. “Saris are not being sold and gaddidars are telling that you people should work on low price if you want to continue. They are telling that market of saris is very down,” he explained. “Even a daily wage labour earns Rs 300 on daily basis but we often don’t earn that much,” he continued. He said that the government had issued Resham Card (Silk Card) like ration card but according to Qadir, for labourers like him it is almost impossible to use such facilities. He said that with this card one has to purchase at least four kg silk and our need is only about half kg. We can’t afford to purchase four kg silk at one time. According to Qadir four kg silk costs at least Rs 4500. Qadir demanded the government to open Bunkar Haat in the locality where government should purchase their products directly. Rahmatullah, another weaver who is in the business for last 26 years, is worried due to high rate of inflation and low income. “I am in this business for last 26 years but since last couple of years it seems that it is a dying business.
Inflation is rising and income is declining,” Most of weavers like Qadir believe that due to rising power loom industry in Gujarat’s Surat district, Varanasi handloom industry is suffering. Power loom produces these saris at cheaper cost and faster rate and they also use synthetic rather than silk. “A sari which we weave in six days will be weaved in power loom within one day,” Qadir explained. A large number of weavers reportedly had migrated to Surat for job after power loom industry boomed up since last decade. They also accused industrialists in Surat for copying their design which are illegal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won Varanasi Lok Sabha seat by defeating Arvind Kejriwal with a huge margin in this General Election 2014 comes from Gujarat. It would be very interesting to see if he listens to the grievances of weavers of his new constituency and if he does something to make a balance between Surat and Varanasi. They argue that only six districts of Uttar Pradesh including Varanasi have Geographical Indication (GI) certificate which means only in these districts Banarasi sari can be produced. The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 which came into effect from 15 September 2003, is followed by World Trade Organization member nations including India. According to Geographical Indication Registry of Ministry of Commerce and Industry “Geographical Indications of Goods are defined as that aspect of industrial property which refer to the geographical indication referring to a country or to a place situated therein as being the country or place of origin of that product.” Weavers of Varanasi got the certificate of GI in 2009 but unfortunately Banarasi saris are being manufactured illegally in several parts of the country which is one of the main reasons behind bad condition of weavers in Bazardiha.
Recession and low earning are not the only problem here. Due to poverty, lack of education and work drug consumption is spreading among youngsters. According to Bunkar Ekta Manch, a local body of weavers in Bazardiha, 60 percent homes at least have one drug addicted youth. Usually they use cough syrups and pain killer medicines, which are easily available in the area. It is first time in history of Varanasi in Independent India that the Prime Minister himself will be representing it in the Lok Sabha. However, people of Bazardiha are not much hopeful that their good days will come soon. Qadir says that during this Lok Sabha election some candidates raised weavers’ issues. “Some candidates have raised our issues but I am not sure that problem will solve because these politicians often forget what they promise,” Qadir said. “Among the tall leaders only Arvind Kejriwal visited the area and I don’t have any hope that anyone will hear poor people,” Qamar said sadly.

Posted by on May 28, 2014. Filed under Regional. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.