Banarasi silk is extremely popular all over India and millions of people spend lakhs of rupees to purchase them. However, in the present times, they are facing a cut-throat competition with the machine manufacturing sarees.
There are about 95, 439 workers in 45,928 handlooms employed in hand-weaving the Banarasi saree but now their machines are dust-ridden and unused. In Varanasi, a big mandi would be set up for these sarees where buyers from all around the world would come to buy them. Although the sales would not fetch them sufficient money, enough for them to lead a satisfactory life.
They live a difficult life alongside the tough working conditions.
They do not sell the sarees directly to the buyers but to the middlemen who take a part of the profit they earn. They are usually found exploiting the artisans by paying them a minimum sum of money, which is insufficient to even keep the business running. Finally, they end up falling in large debts or debt traps.
At least 90% of the sector is highly unorganised where the workers do not acknowledge maintaining records of the transactions. Therefore, there is no way to know if they are bluffed by traders.
Prior the execution of a particular design, they are jotted down on a paper and used as a guide. It takes months to produce a saree, any mistake found would cost them time and resources.
With time there has been an increase in the units of sarees produced, earlier it took a month to make one saree. However, the remuneration does not supplement the requirements of the artisans. This is the reason, people are duped into buying fake Banarasi sarees which further shakes the trust of the people on these handlooms.
Owing to these complications, the artisan’s association in Varanasi filed for a copyright on these sarees in 2009. According to this, six places namely Jaunpur, Bhadohi, Mirzapur, Chandauli, Varanasi and Varanasi cannot sell Banarasi silk sarees.
It takes around three workers to make a saree on the loom. In the process, one weaves the saree, the other dyes it and had to engage the silk creating a power ring. It is a tedious and time-consuming task to weave a saree. This art is passed down from generations. Their training of hand-weaving the sarees begins at the age of 10 in Varanasi.
Traditionally, it took the artisans a month to produce a saree. Although the time of producing the saree depends on how complex the design is which might be up to six months. The art was to weave and tie up 3500 threads in the correct order. Also, it was important to keep in mind and not mess up the different colours of the threads while weaving the cloth.
The condition of the artisans further worsened in the lockdown, where they incurred huge losses. The business which was running at its minimal pace almost shut completely. With no demand for the sarees, the workers had to take up other jobs for their livelihood. They opened shops and even worked as labourers.
In Bajardiha, Varanasi lives the families of the artisans. They have to resort to doing other jobs for the sustenance of their livelihood. All their savings are exhausted and they are left with nothing to eat. The workers believe that in this way the art they have inherited would be lost. Their living conditions have even frightened the future generations for taking up the family business.