Lockdown Impact: Weaver family drowning in debt Part-2 of our on-going series based on CJP's Purvanchal fact-finding mission examining the decline of the traditional weaving industry

12, Mar 2021 | CJP Team

The traditional Banarasi weaving industry in India’s Purvanchal region is withering, and people engaged in the trade are struggling financially. Entire families have been pushed into poverty, girls are suffering in the absence of online education as schools are shut. 

Our team came across 18-year-old Amina whose family of ten in Mubarakpur, is struggling to get back on their feet financially after the lockdown.

“Three family members work on each of our two looms,” says Amina, who hails from a family of weavers. Amina is one of six sisters and also has two brothers. They all live with their parents. They own one handloom traditionally called a ‘karga’ and one powerloom, both are operated only by members of their family. Three sisters work exclusively on the handloom.

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.

“The material is supplied by the people for whom we weave sarees, we do the weaving and earn ‘mazdoori’ from it,” explains Amina.

Amina says, “We work in shifts from 5 AM to 2 PM, then 3 PM to 6 PM, and finally from 8 PM to 11 PM.” This comes to a total of 15 hours a day that the family operates the looms. “Our feet, backs and hands ache from working till 11 PM each day,” says the 18-year-old explaining all this only earns them a meagre Rs. 2,000/- for ten to fifteen days spent on weaving one saree! “They often withhold the wages, because of a loan we took two years ago for building our house,” adds Amina, shedding further light on her family’s financial distress.

“When the lockdown started, all work suddenly came to a standstill. My father and brothers started selling pakodas when there was no weaving work,” says Amina.

Amina’s father says, “The government gave us rice and wheat during the lockdown, but it isn’t enough to sustain us. There are other expenses that forced us to borrow from relatives and neighbours, who now refuse to lend any more money.”

The impoverished family is deep in debt. “During the lockdown we were forced to borrow around one lakh rupees. We opened a Jan Dhan account, but no money has been received yet,” says Amina’s father. “We also got two Bunkar Cards, costing 30 rupees each, we didn’t have money for more,” he laments. It is noteworthy that the Bunkar card is issued free of cost.

But that’s not all, the family is also deeply concerned about Amina’s sister Mariana’s education. Mariana is a 9th standard student, but has been missing out on studies as schools are shut and there is no online education. “We have one mobile phone for everyone in the household, and everyone, including us girls, use it. But, I can’t study because there are no online classes,” says Mariana.

The family has suffered another huge financial loss during the pandemic. “The house was submerged in water around the time of Eid and all the machines had to be built again, we didn’t employ anybody else for the work but it still cost us,” says Amina. “An expense of fifty thousand,” added her father.  Thankfully, their electricity is under a special scheme for powerloom operators, though they have been unable to pay their bills lately.

Her mother sounds heartbroken as she says, “All our jewelry got sold too, during the pandemic. Three pieces of jewellery: a bala and two jhalas were sold off for a mere Rs 50,000 to a goldsmith.”

Concerned about their eldest daughter Amina’s wedding, her father says, “Families approach us asking for Amina’s hand in marriage, but we don’t have the money right now, with the jewelry sold too, we tell them it will take two years, but people refuse.”


How Purvanchal’s traditional weaving industry came undone

How this weaver was forced to run a tea shop


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