Varanasi’s famous handloom craft is as good as dead with most of the Muslim weavers of the city in distress over decreasing demand, forcing them to shift almost entirely to powerlooms due to competition from China and elsewhere.
A visit to Lallapura, inhabited by the weaving community, showed a dismal picture. When this correspondent asked about the handloom industry on reaching, a roadside tea vendor said, “Where have you come searching for handlooms? Everybody has shifted to powerloom and handlooms are almost dead.”
Almost every household in the area has a powerloom. Only one or two handlooms could be found.
Md. Azaz Ansari, one of the owners of a powerloom set up, said, “The condition of the weavers here is very sad and if things continue like this, we would be left at the mercy of God. Everything has become expensive. Even exports have been closed.”
Another person added, “Half the time there is no electricity. We run our machines on high-powered batteries which increases the cost of production. Nobody is ready to pay for the increased costs. We are left with very little margin, and it becomes difficult to even pay the labourers.”
Asked about the shift from handloom to powerloom, Ansari said, “It is because of the competition in the market. By using handloom, one sari is ready in 7-10 days, while in powerloom, a sari is ready in just 5 hours. One handloom sari could cost about Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000, while the same in a powerloom would be half that price. So why would people not shift?”
Though the Central government has set aside Rs 1,400 crore for providing subsidy on the threads and electricity, the weavers are not be benefiting from such facilities.
Azim Babu, president of the Weavers’ Association of Varanasi, said, “Nothing reaches the weavers. The government has a provision for creation of new clusters and societies which would have around 250 members each. In reality, there are 12 clusters with only 20-25 registered members. The rest are bogus names so the funds are being siphoned off.”