Benaras was a thriving textile weaving city even before the Mughals arrived and patronised weavers. Saree defines an Indian woman. She is the prettiest, draped in a saree. The famous Benarasi Saree made with brocades and embroidery of gold and silver is originally crafted in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
What challenges do the weavers face?
- Weavers do not have access to the buyers. Their end product is sold to middlemen who have little concern for their plight.
- Most of the times they feel cheated being unaware of the fashion industry and the demand of the saree they weave in the international market.
- Most transactions happen through middlemen who exploit them, paying only a minimum amount of Rs.250 a day on which they survive. As the cost of production is very high, with an earning so low it is difficult to maintain a huge business. In a cyclic process, they fall prey to the brokers.
- Being in an unorganised sector where accounts aren’t efficiently maintained, most work is undertaken on the basis of trust. In case they feel cheated, they have nowhere to go.
- When once it was a handloom craft, it took a month to weave a saree, now it’s mostly done on power loom, the latter producing more of its quantity in a single day. Although the production has gone up, the earnings haven’t.
- Fake Benarasi sarees have flooded the market from Surat and China, threatening the dying handloom.
A Better future?
According to the handloom census, 45928 household handlooms employing 95,439 weavers exist in Varanasi and surrounding areas. However, in actuality, the number of weavers outnumber those mentioned in government records, more than three lakhs including women. The present government has come up with a trade facilitation centre and a museum in the outskirts of Varanasi. Nonetheless, weavers see this prospect as bleak.
The Government needs to have a more proactive approach towards this and allow indigenous industries to flourish. With proper rules and mechanisms, there are possibilities of ruling out gaps and problematic areas. The Start- up India scheme remains precarious if existing industries do not get sufficient support.