Covid-19 adversely impacted the weavers in Bihar, says Juhi Smita
Priyanka Devi and her family — from Rampur village in Gaya district of Bihar — have been weaving blankets from sheep wool for several generations. The Covid-19 outbreak and its subsequent lockdown, however, has made it difficult to sustain this age-old occupation. “Due to lockdown, we had a hard time selling our blankets. Left with no option, we were bound to sell them at a throwaway price. It has affected our financial condition irreversibly. I am unable to find a way out of this situation,” expressed Priyanka who is unaware of any government schemes meant for the artisans and thinks that the pandemic has disrupted markets specifically for lower-income groups.
Currently, she earns some money from the orders that she receives from the local traders but those are inadequate to make ends meet. While Priyanka is still struggling to sustain herself through weaving, Arti Kumari, another resident from the same village, has been forced to quit the occupation. The financial crisis was so grave during the lockdown that she could not afford to continue.
The absence of a market has also affected weavers from Singodi village in Paliganj block of Patna district. This village is home to families of 1,5000 weavers of which 500 are still working here. Earlier, 500 looms were operational in this region; today there are just 100. A local committee known as the Primary Weaver’s Cooperative has been working in the region to promote the interests of the weavers. Its president, Fayaz Ahmed, while pointing out the trouble weavers had to go through, said, “Five years ago their condition was quite good, but in the last two years of Covid-19 their financial conditions have been severely impacted. Goods worth Rs 30 lakh are lying unsold. The weavers who worked day and night are now working only for a few hours.”
Ahmed mentioned receiving a verbal order from the government for curtains, which they have prepared, but the products have not been delivered yet. Hence, he urged the concerned departments to provide more market avenues than just capital.
Shailendra Kumar, who works in the handloom silk sector in the Nawada district of Bihar, highlighted how the cooperative society he belongs to had similarly incurred a major loss. Around 800 weavers from Nawada, Kadirganj, and Gopalganj are members of the cooperative societies that have been majorly hit by the Covid-19. “Before the last two years, we received huge orders from exhibitions, such as the Saras Mela and national exhibitions held in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. But, in the last two years, there has been a 40-50 per cent reduction in the business. As you know, silk is quite expensive, a lack of better market avenues for the weavers results in the poor quality of work,” said Shailendra.
Likewise, is the fate of Kapil Dev Prasad, a resident of Bihar Sharif in Nalanda district of Bihar, who has been making Bawan Buti Sarees and bedcovers for the past 50 years. A member of Baswan Bigha Primary Weaver’s Cooperative Committee, Kapil stressed that the new generation is hesitant to continue this work because of low profits.
Ashok Singh, a jute weaver and a resident of Bhapatia village in Sikty block of Araria district, believes that the concerned departments should form a group of weavers and provide regular updates about the current marketplace. They should also be helped in the production so that their work can be continued by future generations.
In the current scenario where everything has shifted to online mode, Raj Nandan, from Mehfil-E-Kallen Obra Primary Weaver’s Cooperative Committee Limited, emphasised the growing importance of the e-market. “Weaving requires hard work, but the weavers are not able to reap appropriate profits. This calls for the government to work towards updating the skills of the weavers on e-market and e-commerce, especially during times such as Covid-19,” expressed Raj.
Udyan Singh, the director of Banka Silk Private Limited based in Delhi, informed about the various steps they have taken to provide better facilities to artisans of silk handloom in Bhagalpur and Banka. According to him, they are continuously informing the artisans about the new technology and the kind of competition in the market. In addition, fashion designers educate artisans about the fabric and how to work with it. “We are continuously working on export policies with the Government of Bihar and trying to receive support from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). Recently, the products of weavers from Bhagalpur and Banka were exported to stores in Vancouver and Toronto in Canada. Their products will also be exported to Netherlands, Dubai, and other countries in the coming months,” Udyan explained.
The administration, on the other hand, is undoubtedly trying to provide an identity to the weavers. Working capital is being provided to all the weavers in the state, wherein, the state government deposits Rs 10,000 into their bank accounts. Besides, the state government contributes annually to provide the benefits of ‘Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana’ to the weavers. Despite the availability of several schemes, the current Covid-19 situation demands a formulation of special ‘short-term’ policies with long term goals to help sustain the livelihood of these artisans.
(The author is an independent writer from Bihar.)