Do you know why hundreds of weavers were lonely in Varanasi this Eid? Unemployment, electricity policy forcing weavers to look for work in other states

30, May 2022 | Fazalur Rehman Ansari

While the day of Eid is long over, the season of Eid milan, or meeting and greeting friends and extended family is ongoing. We visit people who are dear to us, in their homes, spend time sharing laughs and sweets, on the days and weeks that follow Eid. It is another way to share the extended joys of the festival with our friends from other faiths too.

I too went to my friend Irshad Ahmed’s house to wish him Eid greetings, he is a weaver like me. I reached his home and called out to him from the courtyard as I have always done. But there was no answer, I called out many times, eventually Irshad asked who it was. Only after I said it was I, Fazalur Rehman, did he come down to the courtyard from his room upstairs. As always Irshad was very happy to see me, but made sure to launch a friendly taunt that I had not enquired about his well being for so long. “Let’s leave all the complaining behind, brother, it’s Eid. I have wanted to meet you for so long,” I replied, asking, “Tell me how you are doing? Why is your home so silent today?”

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I asked because usually this home is full of the happy chatter of Irshad’s extended family, as they go about their day. That day, however, only the immediate family was around, and the usual small crowd of relatives and friends was missing. In a sad, low voice he replied, “What can I say man? Everyone has left.”

According to Irshad there seems to have been some sort of an exodus from his neighbourhood of weavers. The community is reeling under the policies, rather the lack of welfare policies. Weavers of Varanasi, and other areas of Uttar Pradesh are struggling to make a living, even though the Covid-19 lockdown has ended.

“We weavers already did not have work due to recession, and due to the lockdown, we weavers reached near starvation,” said Irshad, adding, “Somehow we managed to stay alive.” However, he says the situation has not improved even this year. “Instead of helping us, the government ordered the end of the exemption we were getting in our electricity bills,” he said, asking, “That policy has been active since 2006, why end it now?”

According to him, after this order, the weavers are so desperate, there have been talks of death by suicide amonst some. “We went on a strike which lasted for about two months, and the Adityanath led government put a stop to its order,” he said. However, many weavers say that they are still being harassed continuously by the electricity department. The process of filing an FIR against them, and cutting their connections continues, claim the weavers. Scores are unable to bear this harassment and have reportedly begun to leave Varanasi.

According to Irshad, his extended family is among the almost lakhs of weavers who have “been forced to flee” from Varanasi, just to be able to survive another day. Many have migrated to Surat in Gujarat, and Bangalore in Karnataka, to find work as daily wage workers. “All my family members also went to Surat due to lack of work here.

And today only my wife, children and I live silently in such a big house,” he says and on a sad note adds, “On Eid this year, we had no loved ones to hug and celebrate with. We have no one…”

Irshad’s tears washed the rest of his words away. I too did not know how to console him. I reached out and hugged him, my own eyes filled with tears. I hope his cries reach both God and the government, and that his extended family, and that of hundreds like him, are  able to return home to Varanasi soon.

Meet Fazalur Rehman Ansari

Fazlur Rehman Grassroots Fellow

A weaver and a social worker, Fazlur Rehman Ansari hails from Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Over the years, he has been raising issues concerning the weavers’ community. He has led the community in demanding their human rights, as citizens, and skilled craftspersons who keep the handicraft and heritage of the region alive.

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