The weaver of Benarasi saris hopes the new MP will get the city better electric supply so that his loom keeps going. He also has an advice for Modi: don’t compare us with Surat.
The noise of the powerlooms is deafening — five machines in a cramped room — till someone decides to turn off the switch. It’s the day before the election results and Mohammad Yunus and the other workers get together for a quick chat. Though Yunus is not a voter in Varanasi, he has a stake here. He knows Narendra Modi is winning, but doesn’t know what to expect of him. “Let’s see what happens,” he says. “I am from Bihar, don’t know what he will do for me.”
The switch is turned on again and the looms roar back to life. A thick jumble of multicoloured threads and sari designs on cardboard hang over Yunus’s machine where a bright pink Benarasi sari takes shape.
Over two decades ago, Yunus left his home in Purnea in search of work and, like many others from neighbouring cities, came to Varanasi. He first learnt to work on handlooms and shifted to powerlooms five years ago. He now works and lives in this textile unit in Pili Kothi, a locality that has been Varanasi’s weaver hub for centuries.
About 75 per cent of Varanasi’s population is involved in the weaving trade, directly or indirectly. The city has about 5 lakh weavers. Earlier, most of the weavers were Ansaris, a backward caste of Muslims. But over the last few decades, other Muslims and Hindus too have joined the profession. While powerlooms have been around for years, it was only a decade ago that Varanasi’s weavers shifted to these machines in a major way. Now 90 per cent of the weavers work on powerlooms.
His day and life, like that of any other weaver in Varanasi, is confined to the loom. It begins at 6 in the morning and goes on until midnight, with breaks only for meals and tea. That’s a nearly 18-hour work shift. “Our work stretches because of power cuts. Sometimes, we get no electricity for 12 hours a day,” he says.
It takes about 15 days to make a 6.5-metre sari on a handloom, but a powerloom makes one in about 4 hours. Though powerlooms have increased the pace and production of their work, it has also made their lives erratic. “It’s electricity that we need the most. That’s what we expect from the new government,” says Yunus.
He gets Rs 200 for eight hours of work, during which he has to …continued »