How Purvanchal’s traditional weaving industry came undone CJP’s ongoing fact-finding mission examines the twin-blows dealt by Covid and administrative apathy

18, Nov 2020 | CJP Team

Weaving is not just an industry in Uttar Pradesh’s Purvanchal region, it is the basis for a strong bond between people from two communities. Handcrafted textiles are the means through which craftsmen and women tell the story of their rich and vivid heritage. But now this bond appears to be weakening as the industry has been experiencing a steady decline and those from traditional weaving communities have been pushed to the brink of penury and starvation.

For a few decades now, the ‘Banarasi’ weaving industry has seen the almost deliberate marginalisation of handloom workers with burgeoning powerlooms virtually taking over. Post 2014, these manipulations took a sharper turn bringing the home business to a virtual shut down, especially in wake of the Covid-19 lockdown. While some of them sold off their ancestral jewellery, many others were forced to sell their looms to scrap dealers, just so they could put food on the table!

CJP has now undertaken, in association with our partners, a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom of what ails this once-thriving industry. Our partners and advisors include Dipak Malik, Vasanthi Raman, Abdullah Ansari, Lenin Raghuvanshi, and many others. Dr Muniza Khan is the coordinator of the entire effort that began in September 2020.

CJP ran a #CJPagainstHunger effort from March-July 2020 to help people during the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Determined to deepen associations with communities like Migrant Workers, Women led Urban Poor Households, and Urban Daily-Wage earners, we launched campaigns like #MigrantDiaries and #LetMigrantsWork. CJP also launched the #CJPfellowships to empower myriad marginalised communities. The Purvanchal Weaving Industry Fact-finding initiative aims to produce a report that will become a powerful analytical and advocacy tool further leading to programmatic grassroot initiatives to battle discrimination and division. Please Donate Now to help CJP reach more such communities across India.

As a part of this fact-finding mission, our teams have been conducting detailed interviews on the ground with artisans and weavers in four locations; Varanasi, Gorakhpur (Rasoolpur, Poorana Gorakhnath), Azamgarh (Mubarakpur, Ibrahimpur, Shahpur) and Mau (Ghosi, Madhuban).

We are speaking to people engaged in different aspects and stages of spinning together some of India’s most exquisite textiles. These include people who make the design (naksha) and the card (patta), that are used to create the first image of the motif, as well as those who are involved in reeling, dyeing, weaving, zardozi and embroidery, adding diamante stones into the weave, polishing and finishing the product.

In Varanasi the areas covered by the fact-finding are Jalalipura, Saraiyya, Nakkighat, Lallapura, Baribazar, Bajardeeha, Madanpura, Shiwala, Koyla Bazar Chauhatta and the outlying areas of Lohta and Saraimohana. The methodology involves collecting detailed sample surveys of at least 200 persons from the four locations in eastern Uttar Pradesh (Purvanchal).

Eventually, the objective of the fact-finding exercise is to gain greater insight into the following aspects of the lives and livelihoods of weavers:

1)     Whether they are loom owners or just workers?

2)     Whether they use hand-looms or power-looms?

3)     Impact of increased power-loom usage on traditional weavers and artisans.

4)     Impact of the lockdown on their source of livelihood and income: Access to credit and loan repayment, burden of debt and its impact

5)     Impact of lockdown on their domestic lives; healthcare, children’s education, access to online options, access to ration via Public Distribution System (PDS) etc.

6)     Whether they have adequate documents to avail benefits under different government schemes?

7)     Relief from government organisations

8)     Growing communalism (many weavers belong to the minority community) and discrimination

9)     State repression in wake of anti-CAA protests and how this has only been exacerbated during the lockdown

10)  Impact of willful neglect of traditional self-employed weavers due to government’s alleged pro-corporate schemes

We also examine successive Handloom Census reports that document not only a decline in the industry, but also the steady rise of middlemen vis-à-vis a corresponding decline in not only the status, but also incomes of traditional artisans and weavers, especially women who work in the industry. The controversial textile policies by various governments that have succeeded in further undermining the handloom weaver and denying access to required welfare measures and incentives will also find focus in the analysis.

In the weeks to come, we will bring you from among the surveys, individual stories of despair and hope. CJP’s Video of Rajesh Sahni, ex supervisor in the fisheries department of BHU who was out of work since the Modi Government shut the department down, is one such tale. He has written four books, one of which is taught in agriculture classes. He is also a recipient of the President’s award during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime and the ‘Sarjana Award’ during the Mayawati regime. He now sells fish for a living in Varanasi! Posted on several social media platforms, on Facebook this video has over 33,000 views!

We will soon bring more such individual tales of woe:

A Zardozi worker now selling coffee in kulhads (mud containers) in the Koyla Bazar of Varanasi who also speaks of religion-based discrimination.

Girls and young women speak of their starving families with no ray of hope in sight.

Muslim women in the district of Mau weaving ‘kafan’, a cloth which is used only by Hindus in post death rituals, showcasing the syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture that is imperilled by a divisive regime.

In Azamgarh (Mubarakpur) girl children as young as class two students are prevented from being photographed or taking pictures. They said that only boys are allowed to do so, not girls.

We have discovered that even before the pandemic, these communities had begun to face the brunt of a regime that has gone from being apathetic to outright oppressive. Many of the traditional weaving communities are followers of Islam, a significant number also belong to the equally or more systematically oppressed Dalit castes. Many of these community members were also part of the protests that took place to denounce the communal aspects of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR). Consequently, they came into the crosshairs of the Uttar Pradesh government that exacted revenge by way of mass arrests, public humiliation and intimidation.

We hope that our fact-finding mission will yield actionable intelligence that can be further utilised to devise sustainable solutions to empower and protect these traditional textile industry workers.


Award winning author now sells fish for a living 

The unending plight of migrant workers in Bengal


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