This is a guest post by Tithe Farhana. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Star (Bangladesh).
Bihari Banarasi weavers are regarded as stranded Pakistanis, as they are the descendants of Muslims who lived in Bihar, the Hindu dominated states of India, who then migrated then newly East Pakistan during partition of India & Pakistan in 1947. Benarasi weavers of present Bangladesh are mostly living in the Mirpur area of the capital city of Bangladesh since 1947.
In the 1930s Dhaka set up its own Banarasi Silk Industry centre. In the1940s a significant geo-political change in this subcontinent enforced to migrate of a large number of Muslim population from one region of India to another region of Pakistan who packed up their looms and came with high hopes to Dhaka to survive with dignity & start a new life in a new country; their second & third generations are still living in Mirpur area and fighting hard against manifold impediments.
The craftsmanship and artistic quality of Bihari weavers gave them a new economic identity. According to Bangladesh Handloom Board, the migrant community set up the Benarosi industry in Mirpur areas of Dhaka in 1950. Consequently, the weavers started to weave Zamdani shares, Mala saree, varieties of Qatan sarees and other colorful and gorgeous sarees: their making products were admired by elite society, especially fashion conscious women.
Currently, a number of serious problems are threatening the existence of this industry. The Banarasi industry in Bangladesh is still dependent on handlooms while the Indian Banarasi industry is using power looms. The technological advancement gives India comparatively lower production costs, although the Bangladeshi industry is also decaying for the lack of technological advancement , lack of patronage and other social as well as economic factors.
The Banarasi market in Mirpur, which had originally started with 5 to 6 shops roughly 25 years ago has grown in size, but the mushrooming of shopping malls in more recent times is not only compressing it in terms of physical area but also in fashion competitiveness, forcing many of the weavers to leave this profession despite having ties with this industry for generations. About 10-15 thousand weavers are involved in this industry where the sarees are designed, hand woven and marketed –all locally by weavers and traders who have been in this industry for generations.
Khalid Hussain explained “It is very unfortunate that they are weaving traditional ways of design. They don’t have qualified or modern designer. So the demand of the Banarsi craft has been decreasing among the city based customer. One of the other reason is Indian sarees which is too low cost and people prefer it most.”
Monju, a 65 years old weaver and entrepreneur said “Accommodation problem is most severe in Mirpur Bihari Polli, we use our home for dual purpose ; living and making sharees are continuing in the same roof. At night we sleep, but the home becomes factory at morning. The gorgeous shrees are made in small rooms with no ventilation support or proper lighting facilities.”
Every political government has been provided commitment, high sounding words for patronization and reviving the Benarasi industry and protecting the existence of weavers, though there has been no apparent reflection of commitments and words. Benarasi weavers made allegation that Bangladesh Tant Board allocated TK 45 lakh for 244 looms for distribution among the weavers, though the fund didn’t reach the genuine Benarosi weavers. They face a lot of problems like a lack of financial support, bank loans, a strong association, designers, lacking of international markets, and lack of government and NGO support.
Md. Selem, a weaver & entrepreneur considered tay “Lack of citizenship was another major factor for facing problems for which this community have been facing many obstacles and deprived of many facilities”. Urdu speaking people’s youth rehabilitation movement filed a writ petition at high court in November 2007 demanding their voting right. On May 18, 2008 the court ordered the election commission that those who born after 1972 should be enlisted as voters. Despite achieving the citizenship and voting rights, the new generation of this community is not enthusiastic and opting for continuing the ancestral professional. There is no change despite getting ID cards or enlist their name as voters. Khalid explained “Life is as usual. Even if they try to get passport it is impossible, passport authority said they don’t have any instruction to provide passport to the Biharis. Government is perpetually violating the rights of the Biharis”.
Monju opined “there is a big problem of middle men. These middleman deprive the weavers from their share of profit. Work opportunity for them is not the same over all the year”. Some weavers clamed that taste of customers change over time, but the Benarasi weavers have failed to cope with the dynamics of time and status to fulfill the demands of customers.
Both Parvez and Shabuddin, weavers of Mirpur Banarasi Polli claimed “the availability of cheap Indian Banarasi Saris with better design in the market are causing a downfall of Benarasi’s appeal to the customers. Some shop owners and customers prefer novel design and costly Indian products”. Monju further commented “Some Bangladeshi wavers in Manikgong , Sirajgonj , Tangail are producing low quality and low cost benarasi sarees and other different types of shares.
Md. Sadakat Khan ,President of Urdu Speaking Peoples Youth Rehabilitation Movement considered the lack of settlement for Banarasi products has been regarded as the most persistent problem for the community. He opined that if the weavers were placed in single areas it would be easier for govt. and craftsmen to deliver the services. Though a particular territory allocated for them at Bhashantek, corruption of management and defrauding activities by the influential political groups did not provide the positive approach to patronize this surviving community.
Presently, the plots are being allocated to govt. and non- govt agencies. He further complained that corruption is prevalent in the allocation procedure as rich people with no back grounds of Banarasi work are getting the allocated plots through the influential powers and practicing dishonest activities.
Banarasi weavers considered the govt’s policy and initiatives to export and promote the Banarasi and other products which they are making would expand the market and demands to all class. Similarly NGOs, Banks and other financial institutions should assist to promote the products made by weaver and provide loans and other skill development programme for reviving this glorious craft industry.
Last not but the least, weavers should be rehabilitated in a particular area so that the Benarasi industry would transformed into a profitable industry like Silk or Tangail. Moreover the weaver considered that they must be regarded as citizen of Bangladesh since they have achieved voting power. Sadakat Khan argued “They need qualified designers, bank loan, healthy working place, involve international markets, change the paten of work like they can make wall mate, curtain, main thing they have convert their work not produce only shares”. Experts identified that this industry has lots of potential to attract international market since the standard and quality of this industry people are elegant and international standard.
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Filed in: Bangladesh,Economy