The embroidery machines used to design Banarasi sarees, originally worth lakhs of rupees, are being sold at throwaway prices.
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
On July 9, 2020, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the representatives of his parliamentary constituency – Varanasi – about developing Kashi as an export hub, Irfan Khan, a resident of Sundarpur, sold his embroidery machine he purchased taking a loan.
“I got this computerised machine four years ago, spending eight lakh rupees,” Irfan, 34, told Gaon Connection. “We have been unable to feed ourselves since the lockdown. I had to sell the machine to a kabadi (scrap dealer) for Rs 35,000. I needed money to support my household expenses. What else could have I done?” lamented Irfan.
“I am now looking to work for others. I am ready to do anything. My state is such that I walk around barefoot, but can’t even dream of buying a pair of chappals (footwear),” he added.
Embroidery work on Banarasi sarees was majorly undertaken in Nagwan, Sundarpur areas. Computerised embroidery machines are used here for designing Banarasi sarees and suits. Thousands of people were employed in this economic activity belonging to the unorganised sector, and it was brought to a screeching halt by the COVID-19 lockdown. Facing economic crisis, people have been forced to sell the machines. The machines, originally worth seven to eight lakh rupees are being sold at throwaway prices. Thousands of people have lost their jobs due to the non-functioning embroidery machines.
Shamshad Ahmed, 32, took up embroidery work in 2017 after finishing engineering degree. “After finishing mechanical engineering, I had taken up a job. Then, I thought of doing something on my own,” he said.
He bought two machines, each for eight lakh rupees, by taking loans from a bank. “Only two EMIs were left to be paid when the rate of interest was hiked. Now, the banks are asking us to take more loans to carry on with the work. This is what happens to people who work for themselves,” said Shamshad, who regretted the decision of purchasing the machines.
“The GST did a lot of damage to our income first, and now, the lockdown totally ruined us,” he complained. “I also have to foot the rent of the room and the electricity bill. I am losing at least 35,000 to 40,000 rupees every month and had to let go of all the workers. The government might have announced the relief package, we did not get one rupee from that,” Shamshad told Gaon Connection.
Shamshad owns two machines and has a team of more than 10 operators. They take care of designing the fabric. Their situation is also precarious. Manish Kumar Sharma, one of the operators of the embroidery machine has had no work in the past four months.
“I had been sitting idle throughout the lockdown,” he told Gaon Connection, “Although I have begun getting some work, it is only for four to five hours a day. Earlier, I used to operate machines for 10 to 12 hours, earning Rs. 500- 600 every day. Now, my daily income is hardly 100 or 150 rupees. It is a tough time for all of us. Only God knows about the future,” said Manish.
There are more than one thousand embroidery machines in the area of Nagwan and Sundarpur which have currently fallen silent. Banarasi saree business and all other businesses associated with have it been severely hit due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The embroidery machine operators are not considered as weavers, and hence, they fail to get benefits of government schemes for the cottage industry.
“18 people in my family are engaged in this work. Their only source of livelihood is currently closed,” Samir, another embroidery machine operator, pointed out to Gaon Connection. “Apart from ration, we have not received any help from the government. We are not counted as weavers; this is also a reason for us not getting the benefits of many government schemes,” he added.
“I am also a designer and presently don’t have any designing work. This is the general state in Varanasi. Those who do not have money anymore are selling off their machines,” sighed Samir.
While the Gaon Connection team was talking to people in Sundarpur area, Munna Ansari, who was to buy the machines, arrived. Munna told Gaon Connection that since the lockdown, at least 200 embroidery machines were dismantled and sold to him. “I give 30 to 35 thousand rupees for a machine,” Munna said. “Before the lockdown, the same machines were selling for up to two lakh rupees. I am buying at such a low price because even I don’t have buyers anymore,” he added.
Munna wasn’t sure about the price at which he would be able to sell the machines he bought.