By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: The seventh and last phase of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election completed on Monday, but the underlying concerns that people face are rarely highlighted during the month-long campaign to elect a new legislative house. For example, in the eastern part of UP known as Purvanchal, the issue of traditional weaving families’ struggle and sorrow was completely absent from the election campaign, even though this area went to polls today. A study revealed that the Covid-19 induced lockdown has hit hard this traditional weaving industry in Purvanchal area.
According to the study, the work stoppages have caused enormous economic and structural damage to the cottage industry leaving people in distress. They faced severe suffering, indebtedness, beggary, and starvation because of the lockdown.
So far, neither the Uttar Pradesh state administration nor the federal government have showed any empathy for the plight of hundreds of thousands of weavers and their families, and have failed to respond to the issue. The anticipated loss to eastern UP’s handicraft, handloom, and power loom industries during and after the Lockdown is Rs 3,000 crores.
The study’s thorough analysis and data illustrate how the artisanal weaving and Zardozi businesses, which have been in a state of crisis for decades as a result of the government’s confusing, if not hostile policies, have become even more despondent as a result of the unanticipated Lockdown.
According to the fact-finding report prepared by the Citizens for Justice and Peace, “ A staggering 89 per cent of those interviewed stated that due to a trust deficit, they simply could not or did not approach the local and state government for a variety of relief measures: food rations, monetary assistance, inflated electricity bills, sewage related and other civic problems. Of the 11 per cent who did, they were dissatisfied with the response”.
Dr. Muniza Khan, a Varanasi-based social science researcher, led a 17-member survey team that conducted detailed interviews with 204 respondents, 37 video interviews, and 19 audio interviews in neighbourhoods with a high concentration of people engaged in weaving the famous Banarasi fabric and related activities.
The locations of the respondents were: Varanasi (13 locations), Gorakhpur (Rasoolpur, Purana Gorakhnath), Azamgarh (Mubarakpur, Ibrahimpur, Shahpur) and Mau (Ghosi, Madhuban).
The following are some of the most important (and, to be honest, surprising) results.
*A stunning 89 percent of individuals polled said they couldn’t or wouldn’t approach the local and state governments for a range of relief measures, including food rations, monetary help, inflated electricity bills, and sewage-related and other municipal issues, due to a trust deficit. They were unsatisfied with the response of the 11% that did.
* Weavers who labour for a living or have a small number of looms are from communities such as Muslim Ansari, Dalit, OBC, and some Muslims from higher classes. A large portion of the artisanal business is currently destitute and invisible. In order to influence not just political but also economic policy and decision-making, informed and reasoned public debate is required.
* Federal schemes are not accessible here to these people .
* The much-publicized Pradhan Mantri Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) (started on May 1, 2016) of the federal government has simply not reached people on the ground. Only 10% of the women in survey were even registered to receive Ujjwala Gas under this scheme; the rest were turned down despite several attempts to apply.
*The Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was similarly difficult to access, according to the respondents. A shocking 52 percent of those polled did not have access to the account. Only 58 percent of the 48 percent who did received cash transfers more than once.
* Women are the backbone of the industry, with jobs ranging from actual weaving to ancillary tasks like as spool feeding, saree embellishment, and finishing. Even in this day and age, their work is typically unpaid because it is considered part of their household tasks.
* Apart from poverty, starvation, and domestic abuse, these women and girls’ testimonials were tragic tales of malnutrition and related health conditions. Many young women were compelled to leave school.
*Over the last three decades, the overall impact of a brutal type of targeted sectarian violence and politics has had a specific impact on women, particularly Muslim women. This communal splintering of gender identity has had a significant impact on conventional gender-driven solidarity, which has frequently broken through denials and divides like those that swept India during the Covid-19 outbreak.
* The role of commercial media, particularly television, in promoting a divisive discourse that, in addition to being based on no facts, was tailored to suit an anti-constitutional agenda, exacerbating the humiliation and acuteness of the sufferings of all sections of the minority, including the artisanal weaving community in eastern UP.
* Days and weeks after the spread of the virus was purposefully misinterpreted and identified with one community, a large number of responders spoke of economic boycotts at work in their neighbourhoods (with terms like Coronona-Jihad, Superspreaders of the Virus, being used).
* The report presents specific recommendations to the federal and state governments, suggesting that all sector stakeholders be consulted before policies are devised and budgetary allocations (which have been decreasing for the previous seven years) are approved. At the village, taluka, and state levels, there has also been a focus on state-driven incentives for professional co-operatives.
* Authorities should make certain that all initiatives and campaigns benefit every single weaver and artisan.
* Invoking the 2011 UN Principles on Business and Human Rights, the report also asks Corporations, Export Houses, and Brands that thrive on this rich and traditional art and craft to uphold standards of dignified wage and social security, as the creator is at the heart of the items produced.
* It is necessary to raise public awareness about the fact that the creators of the Banarasi saree and brocade are the proprietors of this intellectual property, which is a truth that the weavers and artisans are unaware of. (In 2009, it was registered under the Geographical Indication Handicrafts Act.) (https://search.ipindia.gov.in/GIRPublic/Application/Details/237)
Call for a National and Regional Campaign
There is an urgent need for a sustainable and concerted national and regional campaign that highlights the following:
• Ensure a sustained revival of this industry and craft so closely linked to rural-urban livelihoods and the cultural heritage of India
• Democratic engagement before policy, economic, and business practises are developed, emerge, or pushed by the government
• Social Security Schemes for various levels of craftspeople, craftsmen, and weavers, with a special focus on women
• Reach out to Corporations and Businesses to incorporate a component of social responsibility and human rights when dealing with the creators of products
• Ensure that the elected representatives also respond to the campaign demands in this report.
• All Indians, including buyers of these products, should get involved to raise their voices and protect the survival of this vital heritage industry.