In PM Modi's Varanasi, weavers are starving because of note ban
The evening sets early these days in the Prime Minister's Parliamentary constituency of Varanasi. The crowds are missing at the famous ghats of the city, even though it is peak season for tourists.
Like the temples, the weaving mills which produce the famous Banarsi sarees, are also desolate. Lakhs of people in Varanasi and surrounding areas depend on this industry for a livelihood. PM Modi's decision to declare Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as illegal tender, has hit Varanasi's weavers hard.
The weaving of sarees has almost come to a halt as there are few buyers even during the ongoing wedding season.
PM Modi's demonetisation policy has adversely affected small and medium scale industries in most parts of the country. But the weavers of Varanasi are especially feeling the heat of the note ban. Around 75,000 people employed in this trade have to go hungry every day.
Mostly dependent on borrowing, the trade of Banarsi sarees was already in a bad shape and demonetisation has only added to the misery. Citing cash crunch, the traders have stopped giving contracts to the weavers. The mounting debts mean the craftsmen are left with no money to buy yarn.
62-year-old Nazrul lives in Peeli Kothi area of the city. He is the sole bread-winner in a family of 12. For now, he is braving the cold standing outside a Bank of Baroda branch. Aware of the long queues outside banks, he has come to the bank at 5 am.
"I have no work or money for the past 15 days. Can you feed my family for a few days?" Nazrul asks. The locals say over 28,000 weavers have their accounts in Bank of Baroda. All of them are queueing up outside the bank following the demonetisation decision. Only the lucky ones are able to get cash after waiting for the entire day.
The biggest difficulty the weavers are facing is the procurement of yarn. "The traders have stopped giving us silk and cloth, as we have failed to pay the old debt. Our children are dying of hunger. The looms are not working and bank officials are applying ink on our fingers for getting our own money," complains Alamgir, an artisan from Ausanganj area.
According to Alamgir, traders have stopped them giving raw material on credit. There is also a fall in demand. "How can we operate the looms when there is no raw material and demand? It is difficult to meet even our daily expenses," says Billu Nawab, a weaver living in Jaitpura locality.
Avinash Tiwari, who has seen the saree business from close quarters, says that the weavers are going through their worst crisis in years. He says that most of the people employed in this business have no bank accounts. They are mostly paid in cash. The traders started paying them in Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes soon after the demonetisation move.
To rub salt in their wounds, most of the cash deposited with these people was also in the same currency notes. Avinash narrates how sales have come to an all-time low and the weavers are not getting their due payments. "The handlooms, as well as power looms, have closed down. The whole city of Varanasi has closed down in many ways," he laments.