Sponsored by

Varanasi’s weavers don't just want sops, they need nutrition

Dhannipur/Varanasi: Out of an estimated 13 lakh weavers in the country, 2.5 lakh are scattered in Eastern Uttar Pradesh and it is only predictable, that political parties are out to woo the community. The Congress has taken a lead by announcing a Rs 6,230 crore package for weavers, under which, a weaver can get Rs 2 lakh loan for three years. Unlike previous schemes for the community, this one aims at transferring money directly to the weaver.

But, the scheme has no takers in Varanasi’s weavers, for whom hunger is a routine of life.

According to statistics for 2011 from the office of the integrated child development scheme, Dhannipur has 116 malnourished children, with 92 suffering from severe malnourishment (of grade three and four) in  the Kashipur Vidyapith block of the village, alone. In 2008, three-year-old son Shahabuddin was one of five children in the village, around 20 kilometers from Varanasi, to die of malnutrition.

Khaliqul, Shahabuddin's mother is tired of narrating the story of her son who died in November 2008 and handloom weaver Idrees Khan, his father, still struggles to make around Rs 100 per day— from which he desperately tried to save to keep his child alive.

The office of the integrated child development scheme cites the average weight of a 2.5 years old baby in Dhannipur is 8.5 kgs — three kgs less than the weight of a healthy baby.

The nearest primary health centre from the village, is three kilometers away and the village has just one primary school. With a family of eight to take care of, Hayaat Khan, a weaver from the village, cannot even afford to send any of his six children to school. “School going kids look healthy as they get the mid-day meal,” said Khan.

According to a study conducted by People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights, an NGO working for the cause of weavers, 47 weavers committed suicide between 2007 and 2009.

 Varanasi’s weavers dont just want sops, they need nutrition

Khaliqul's son Shahabuddin died of malnutrition in late 2008. Naresh Sharma/Firstpost

“To take that loan, we need to live and earn as a weaver,” said Idress Khan, who is looking for a change in profession. That is the only way, he says, he can survive.

In his book Asaahr-e- banaras, late Maulana Abdul Salaam, former mufti of Banaras, makes a mention of weavers. The author notes that Maulana Alvi brought weavers to Varanasi seven centuries ago and over the years, they became an integral part of city’s culture. While Muslims and people from other backward classes were involved in weaving, trade was by the upper class Marwaris. Those weavers, who got good returns for their skill, became traders, lots of them buying power looms. In many ways, they threatened the Marwari class. For years after, the manufacturer-weaver-middlemen combine provided Banaras saris to the world. But changing market dynamics, the absence of subsidies and advent of power looms have brought the weaver, back to square one.

Villagers in Dhannipur believe that the biggest beneficiary of Congress scheme will be the cooperatives. “Half of the total money will go the selected few who run cooperatives,” said Ansaar Ahmed, a weaver.

There is another factor, which will not let the scheme become a total success. In Uttar Pradesh, majority of weavers are predominantly Muslims. “Islam does not allow taking money on interest,” Ahmed said.

Furthermore, successive assurances is all that authorities give the villagers. After the five malnutrition deaths in 2008, then district magistrate Ajay Kumar Upadhyaya announced he was adopting the village, district commissioner Suresh Chandra announced 20 quintals of wheat for the village and Janta Dal (United) Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar raised the issue of weavers in Parliament. But that's what it was all about. Lip service.

Even former deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, A Rehman visited Dhannipur, but, “All he gave us, was a patience hearing,” says a villager.

The only thing that every happened after the five deaths in the village in 2008 was that nine families of the approximately 3,000 families (and a population of 15,000 persons) got BPL cards.

No wonder then, the village, which goes to poll on Wednesday, is not excited by the poll sops.

Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.

Updated Date: Feb 14, 2012 12:24:40 IST

Also See