They were sanguine that the compilation of the database would bear fruits in the form of a financial grant to partly counter the lockdown onslaught, as had been provided to migrant workers in the form of Rs 1,000 ex-gratia, apart from a robust absorption in the jobs under the Mahatma Gandhi National
Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
Three months have passed and the wait for weavers
continues to get longer.
In Mubarakpur, about 115 km from Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 38-year-old master weaver Firoz Haider, a first-generation entrepreneur directly employing 150 weavers, is among the 15,000-odd handloom craftsmen and weavers
in the town yearning for the much-needed succour.
“In the pre-lockdown days, a weaver could earn almost Rs 500 a day. However, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that our work has dwindled to only 5 per cent,” he said.
Painting a gloomy picture of the prevailing condition, he claimed most handloom units have unsold inventory, which is sufficient to meet the likely 25-30 per cent spurt in the upcoming festive season, without resorting to fresh production.
“We have enough stock to last until February-March 2021, since the abrupt lockdown had led to the cancellation of orders and zero sales,” Haider said, adding he would not want his children to join this trade if the handloom ecosystem does not change for the better soon.
His other two brothers also run handloom units and the clan employs 450-500 silk handloom weavers.
Mubarakpur is famed for the intricate and complex silk fabric handicraft, which now has few takers owing to marketing gaps and higher prices compared to machine-loom textile.
He claimed Mubarakpur alone accounted for about Rs 3 crore worth of monthly filing of goods and services tax (GST) before the lockdown happened. “My firm’s monthly GST returns were to the tune of Rs 5-6 lakh pre-lockdown. Today, it is as good as nil since we do not have any orders to execute nor there is any expectation of demand in the coming months, which would exceed our inventory pileup,” he rued.
The desperation among the weavers in Mubarakpur is so high that they are willing to not only work for a fraction of their standard wages but pick up the spade for manual labour under the MGNREGA projects, which are also not easier to come by.
Iftekhar, who works for the uplift of local weavers, said the state department communication regarding the preparation of the database had kindled hope for imminent monetary aid during the lockdown crisis, but it came a cropper.
“We were told there was impending financial support for weavers, when the notification for the database was circulated among us, since bank account details were also sought by the department,” he averred, noting the handloom and textile segment was the largest provider of employment in the state after agriculture. “The dismal socio-economic condition of weavers is no secret. The sector provides mass employment, but still suffers from neglect and apathy.”
UP Additional Chief Secretary (textile) Rama Raman said the state government was in the process of preparing a database of weavers to ascertain their needs and take suitable action. “At present, we are preparing a database of weavers belonging to the scheduled caste category for providing automated loom training to youth under the new Jhalkari Bai Yojana,” he informed, adding the survey was nearly complete. “We already have the database of state weavers, which is now being updated to make a much deeper analysis for providing relief if needed.”