Lockdown impact: Religion-based discrimination rampant in Varanasi? Part-8 of our on-going series based on CJP's Purvanchal fact-finding mission examining the decline of the traditional weaving industry

15, Sep 2021 | CJP Team

CJP’s fact finding mission analysing the plight of workers from the weaving industry and allied activities, in face of the Covid induced lockdown, has also come across several allegations of religion-based discrimination, even amidst a deadly pandemic. On November 29, 2020, our team came across Imtiaz*, an Aari worker who was forced to run a coffee stand due to absence of Aari work. He was one of the people who made a series of serious allegations against the authorities for targeting people from the minority community in different ways.

“I was on my way from Babatpur airport after the lockdown, when a few uniformed policemen stopped me and asked if I was a Hindu or a Muslim,” recalled Imtiaz. “When I said I was Muslim, they asked me to sit in their vehicle to be taken to a quarantine facility. They let me go after an hour and a half, after much pleading. All this while, anyone who identified as Hindu, was allowed to continue their journey,” he said.

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.

Imtiaz also alleged that while police personnel often forced Muslim-owned shops to down shutters. “The shops of Hindus are allowed to stay open in this area, but shops of Muslims remain shut,” he told our team. He further said, that discrimination was also practiced by the sanitation department in deciding frequency of cleaning neighbourhoods based on religion of inhabitants. “While they ensure Hindu neighbourhoods are cleaned daily subah-shaam, Muslim neighbourhoods only get cleaned when some dignitary is expected to visit,” alleged Imtiaz.

Imtiaz is an Aari worker, an artisan skilled in a craft associated with the weaving industry. “Before the lockdown, I had so much work that I had to hire people. There were 40-42 people under me in my own factory. While each karigar was paid Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000, I made around Rs 20,000 to Rs 22,000, after all expenses.” His former employees are now forced to beg for a living. “Earlier, one could make at least Rs 350 per day, now they struggle to get even Rs 150 to at least arrange for dal-chawal,” he said.

But, after the lockdown, work came to a grinding halt. Orders stopped coming and savings dried up. The women in his family used to take tuitions and made about Rs 1,500, but even that income source dried up after the lockdown. He had gone to Mumbai just before the lockdown and could only return when the first trains started plying. But he met with an accident shortly after returning, and broke an arm and a led. The medical expenses took a toll on his dwindling finances.

But that didn’t hurt as much as his children being forced to drop out of school. “They were studying, but had to give up after appearing for standard ten exams,” said Imtiaz between sobs.

“There are elderly women in the family, but despite opening an account and completing all paperwork, they have not received a single rupee in pension,” he further informed our team.

Imtiaz is deep in debt and that led him to open a coffee stand around four months before we met him. “I borrowed from friends and family. I owe them around Rs 60,000 to Rs 65,000. But I only make about Rs 300 from this coffee shop every day,” he told us.

*Name changed to protect identity.


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Lockdown Impact: Weavers forced to become tea sellers!

How Purvanchal’s traditional weaving industry came undone


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