India Wakes to Chinese Make

The association of Chinese products and Indian market is a long story. History has witnessed material import from China, especially Chinese silk, making way into silk industry. Chinese sarees are not new to Indian woman and so are the Lord Ganesha idols, electronic goods and toys. The six months ban imposed on import of toys from China is a direction taken to protect the domestic industry; a much needed step on the part of government to help the survival of various struggling domestic and cottage industries in India.

Indeed, the Chinese goods have become the current fad everywhere, especially for its low pricing. However, import of Chinese fabric has not struck the right chord with the saree industry.

In fact, sarees, unique to its Indian roots, is today a part of international culture, with blend of foreign material in an Indian connection. But it made news when silk sarees, especially Banarsi, the undisputed queen of every woman’s wardrobe, saw the weavers on a protest march last year as the Chinese sarees, a cheap imitation of authentic Banarsi, enjoyed better sales.

Named after the holy city of Varanasi or Banaras, this exclusive Indian treasure, is today facing the tunes of social and economic change. Though the finance minister has given India an assurance that we belong to secure zone, the industries have started facing the heat. The still ongoing economic crisis is fast spreading its tentacles to every form of business, choking the profit makers.

“Business of Banarsi saree has come down due to economic recession around the globe in many ways. Because all the fabrics made here are luxury items. All those who purchase these are the ones who are rich, either from India or from abroad…. People, who buy the stuff eventually, are affected by this financial crisis. And therefore, this influences us,” said Maqbool Hasan, a Banarsi saree exporter in a news report.

Rich in traditional and Persian motifs, brocades with intricate designs created from gold and silver thread, once upon a time Banarsi sarees found a world wide platform during the rule of Mughals.

The rulers, known for their flamboyance, encouraged silk weaving to that of the cotton. The glorious history survives through some of the traditional patterns and designs that are hard to duplicate; and a saree lover has a variety to choose from, be it pure silk (katan), organza (kora) with zari and silk, georgette, or shattir.

Little wonder then that the millions of people in the city are dependent on saree weaving, which is a kind of cottage industry in Varanasi. These traditional families of weavers burn their midnight oil to make the saree from home.

The poor, mostly illiterate weavers have to confront many a situation to weave the prestigious sarees. From the moneylenders to the climate and the availability of raw material to the laborious working conditions, everything has an impact on the physical and mental state of about 15 lakh people in the Banarsi saree industry.

The specialty of Banarsi saree is, in short, the skilled labour that is as distinct as the place itself. The rest of raw materials, including zari, silk and dye are imported from other places.

Interestingly, the raw silk used for weaving Banarsi sarees has always had a foreign connection. Earlier, it was Japan and now China has taken over the reign. Raw silk is not only imported, but also smuggled and sold in the black market.

Despite the fact that Karnataka and Gujarat have taken over as the primary providers, Chinese silk is still giving a tough competition. According to a 2007 news report, raw silk from China is thought to contribute up to 50 to 60 per cent of the sari-weaving market in Varanasi.

Similarly, when the weavers or artisans are spending days together to weave a saree, powerloom owners have made things simpler with computer-assisted copying of designs. They are producing cheap imitations of original Banarsi at various places. To add to the misery, these imitation sarees are said to be enjoying better profit margins.

With the sale of sarees going down and rising inflation making things difficult for the suppliers to meet the demands, artisans are feeling the heat in their sole profession.

“The business is not doing well. We work for 15 days and often there is no work for another 15 days. Initially, the labour charge was Rs 500 and today, it is only Rs 400,” said Javed, a weaver.

The struggle for existence has taken a toll on such weavers.

Instead of testing their patience further, they have opted for alternate means of livelihood. While some are working at construction sites and as rickshaw pullers, others are migrating for better job prospects.

Thanks to globalisation, Indian goods have better exposure internationally; nevertheless, the doors have also let in scenes of insecurity.

The Indian handloom and cottage industries have emerged stronger after every unwarranted crisis for years and the past sows seeds of hope for the Banarsi saree industry. The decision to ban Chinese toys may be just the first step, but it also goes to show that domestic industry still holds primary concern. It is easy to find skilled labour, but maintaining the tradition needs attention and care.

Published… A Merinews Pick…
India wakes up to Chinese make by Deeya Nayar-Nambiar

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