31, Mar 2021 | CJP Team
In November 2020, while conducting our fact-finding mission in the Koila Bazar locality of Chuhatta in Varanasi, we came across Murtaza Hussain, a Zardozi artisan. The lockdown has hit him hard. His future is uncertain, but he doesn’t want his children to suffer the same fate.
“I will never teach them this work,” he says, his voice equal parts anger and hopelessness. “Never,” he then reiterates quietly, as if making a silent promise to himself. He then breaks into tears.
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.
“A friend of mine died, because he couldn’t afford medical treatment due to financial distress. His name was Pappu. He had three children,” says Hussain wiping away his tears. It is noteworthy that Pappu died even before the lockdown, as his earnings from Zardozi work weren’t enough to pay his medical bills.
This is true of many artisans we came across during our fact-finding mission. They were already in dire financial straits well before the pandemic struck. A lot of this is due to several policy decisions taken by the government that have had an adverse impact on their ability to earn a living. The economic upheaval brought about by the lockdown was just the final nail in the coffin.
Hussain has been a Zardozi artisan for over 25 years and there are roughly 80 people who still do the kind of intricate Zardozi work that he does. His friends and fellow Zardozi artisans are all in agreement with him about training their children in their craft.
“You cannot earn a living or support a family with this line of work,” they say, adding, “We don’t want our children to take up this work, as there is no future in this work.”
“Even if someone tells us they want to teach their children their craft, we talk them out of it,” says Hussain.
At the heart of this disaffection lies a disillusionment born of hardships experienced during the lockdown. Hussain works eight to ten hours a day, producing intricate work that requires skill and precision, but earns as little as Rs 150 to Rs 180 a day, sometimes even less. This is barely enough to make ends meet!
“Bunkars (weavers) got Bunkar Cards and subsidized electricity. They use it to power other appliances in their homes,” alleged one of Hussain’s livid co-workers. He asks, “What did Shilpis (artisans) get?”
He says, several NGOs have done the rounds and yet artisans have not received a single penny in financial aid. “We will never beg, we are skilled artisans,” says Hussain’s colleague, but trails off saying, “As long as we have our eyesight, we will work. But once that is gone, it’s the end of this work for us.”