The Challenges before “Bunkars” of UP

By Tanvir Salim

The outcry over the destruction of the handloom and the power loom industry is heard everywhere. The dismal conditions of the weavers or the “Bunkars”, are not hidden to anybody. If the crowds that converged at the “Bunkar Sammelan” in Varanasi on January 28th are any indicator, then it can be safely concluded that the condition of the Bunkars of Uttar Pradesh is worse off than any other in the country. There is hue and cry everywhere, but the government is yet to acknowledge the reality as if it has nothing to do with the gravity of the situation and with the challenges faced by the community. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati was in Gorakhpur in February 2011, and visited many Dalit localities, but she was nowhere seen in the Bunkar localities, although these two localities are next to each other. Not only that, most of the Dalit community in some way is engaged in the nuts and bolts of the weaving industry. It is not out of place to mention that the leather used in the making of the loom is produced by the Dalit community. The Dalits also take part in the dying and coloring of the yarn that is used for making clothes. Today, more than 25% of the people working on the power looms are Dalits. Maybe, Mayawati does not know this. Mayawati should know that if this industry thrives, then the Dalits, along with other marginalized communities will prosper too. Later, she was in Sant Kabir Nagar, a place which is heavily populated by the Bunkar community. Here, at a place called Maghar, Kabir ushered a revolution by advocating communal harmony through his poetry.

It is sad to see that today the MPs and MLAs of the ruling party are even scared to take the plight of the weavers, because they are not sure as to how it will be taken by the party leadership. I remember that in 1972, my grandfather, late Mr. Istafa Husain, who was a MLC that time, started a movement for the cause of the weavers. At that time, he was not even concerned about how it will be taken by the party leadership. My father, late Mr. Ashfaq Husain Ansari, carried the fight initiated by his father and grandfather. He wrote many books and articles which narrated the plight of this community. Later as a parliamentarian, he exposed the weaknesses of the central government schemes which were related to the textile and handloom industry. I remember that during my childhood, my neighborhood was alive with the sound of “khatar-patar”, coming out from the running of the handlooms. Today, the whole area is silent, as if someone has died. At that time, there used to be hundreds of handlooms in that area, but today there is hardly any. At that time hundreds of people got jobs in various handloom showrooms around the country and the community was financially well off.

Both my father, as well as grandfather was of the view that consumption of the end product is the foremost challenge for the poor weaver. It is the middle man who corners the plump share leaving the poor weaver with almost nothing. It was their efforts that handloom depots were opened in the various cities in India as well as abroad. To increase the production of yarn, scores of spinning mills were opened. Today, due to the mismanagement and also due to the apathy of the state governments, the handloom and power loom infra-structure is in shambles. In my locality Wazirabad in Gorakhpur, I was dismayed to see how the so called handloom artisans, due to lack of work are available to work as day laborers.

In today’s world, the challenges before this industry are many. The industry is not able to bear the onslaught by China, which is dumping the market with cheap products. If the government is not attentive to the needs of this industry, then the day is not far off when the Bunkars of Uttar Pradesh will be forced to commit suicide like the weavers and farmers of the other states. But these challenges are not new. In the past, this industry was able to face the wrath of the East India Company and survived because there were good leaders, who under the banner of Momin Conference provided full protection to this industry. But today due to the lack of leadership this industry is lingering on borrowed oxygen. How long this will continue, is anybody’s guess?



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