Save our livelihoods to get our votes: UP weavers’ 2022 election manifesto

UP’s weaver community lists a detailed set of expectations from the political parties aiming for their vote for Assembly elections


Making the most of election season, Uttar Pradesh’s Bunkar Udyog Mandal issued a fresh manifesto demanding basic economic and social boosts from the state government, not the least of which is the demand for a dignified wage.

According to Mandal General Secretary Zubair Adil, people have been struggling in the state since the ruling regime announced disastrous economic policies like GST and demonetisation, and then its haphazard and ineffective strategy for Covid-19 management. “People’s looms have been closing down due to continued ignorance. A saree is made using 17 parts on which different weaver groups work. People from each of these groups have migrated to Bangalore, Surat and other regions because of worsening livelihood,” he said.

Recently, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath promised a meeting with the community via Zoom. However, the same was cancelled for unknown reasons, said Adil, asking, “Over the years, the Chief Minister promised to address our demand thrice. Once in Varanasi, then Lucknow and finally in Gorakhpur. Now, where should we place our trust?”

Similarly, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav has orally promised 300 units of electricity to all people belonging to the weaver community. Yet, the Mandal is uncertain of where to invest their faith because the demands are not included in SP’s manifesto.

This concern is not exclusive to BJP or SP. No political party has included weaver demands in their written manifesto. Meanwhile, the electricity department continues to abruptly cut off electricity supply, the fate of previous promises and subsidies lie in limbo. Arrears continue in their passbook. There is also the socio-economic threat for weavers facing a combination of police cases from the electricity department and communal elements in society.

For this reason, the group resolved to publish their own manifesto for approaching elections. In the document, members pointed out that the textile sector is the second biggest sector in terms of generating employment, accounting for 14 percent of India’s total production. Moreover, 13 percent of the total export comes from textile and allied products, which earns foreign exchange and records India’s global participation at 0.6 percent.

“Weavers make this essential textile using their skills in weaving, dyeing and designing. However, these same weavers are weak economically, socially and politically,” said the manifesto.

It said the UP government had lagged behind in creating jobs and opportunity in the sector since coming to power in 2017. As such, many weavers were forced to leave the state with their families.

A recently published report by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) “Purvanchal: Silence of the Looms” revealed how the artisanal weaving industry as well as the long-suffering Zardozi industry slid into further despair during the Covid-19 lockdown. Purvanchal’s handicraft, handloom, power loom businesses lost an estimated Rs 3,000 cr between 2020 and 2021.

As many as 89 percent of interviewees said they could not or did not approach local/ state administrations for relief measures because of lack of trust. This means that nearly 90 percent of Purvanchal weavers did not go to officials for rations, monetary assistance, inflated electricity bills, sewage issues due to a lack of faith in its own government. The people who did approach the government said they were dissatisfied with the response.

The Mandal argued that these grievances of the people can be addressed if the government accepts their 20-point demands.

“If weavers’ various demands are accepted, UP will enjoy great progress and be considered among the developed states of India,” it argued.




Weavers demands

Above everything, weavers demanded a dignified wage for community workers. This demand was reinforced by CJP in its report. This demand is in line with the 2011 UN Principles on Business and Human Rights that appeals to corporations, export houses and brands to respect standards of dignified wage and social security.

Further, weavers demanded pension for workers who completed 60 years and fiscal assistance to weavers through welfare centres. To reduce the cost of production, the Mandal also asked that the import duty be decreased. Regarding government subsidies, it said the government had much to do.

Around January 4, 2022 the Mandal submitted a memorandum to the Varanasi Additional City Magistrate to request the reinstatement of the Electricity Reimbursement Flat Rate Scheme 2006.

This has been a standing demand of weavers since December 4, 2019 when the government dismissed the flat rate that provided electricity to weavers at a subsidised rate. Although this decision was withdrawn after workers went on strike, the electricity department continues to charge exorbitant prices. As such, weavers have also demanded that their arrears be reset.

In line with this, weavers argued that the government should withdraw the cases levied against them in past years as well as the five percent GST on textile. Instead, the administration should focus on creating a marketing centre in the state and a thread manufacturing industry in Banaras. Banks should be instructed to give interest-free loans to weavers for this and weaver commissions should be created.

Socio-cultural background of the weaving community

CJP noted that wage workers or owners of just a few looms in this field of work are from Muslim Ansari, Dalit, OBC communities. Some Muslims hail from more privileged castes. However, nowadays, a majority of these workers are “completely impoverished and invisibilised”.

Similarly, the Mandal noted that Muslims account for about 22 percent of the state population. As such, there should be 20 percent reservation for them in education and government employment and as much as 30 percent reservation in the textile ministry. It also argued that there should be reserved seats for Muslims in politics to increase their representation.

The CJP report noted that many respondents suffered economic boycotts at work in neighbourhoods, days and weeks after the spread of Covid-19 was misleadingly associated with one community using words like “Corona-Jihad” or “super-spreaders of the virus”. Accordingly, the Mandal demanded that the government build hospitals, schools and colleges in weaver dominated regions. Another suggestion was the immediate implementation of Sachar committee recommendations and passing of the anti-Riot Bill.

CJP argued that an informed and reasoned public dialogue is essential to influence political but economic policy and decision making. Particularly, it urged public awareness around the fact that Banarasi saree and brocade creators are the real owners of this intellectual property – a detail little known to the weavers and artisans.

Gender disparity

As per Mandal estimates, the textile sector creates 4.5 crores directly in India and 10 cr jobs indirectly, including rural women, ensuring their participation in sustainable development. However, when CJP interviewed these women in the Purvanchal region, it found that most often, their work remains unpaid, even in this day and age, as it is considered part of their household chores.

A woman weaver’s work ranges from weaving to related work like spool feeding, saree decoration and finishing work. They basically form the backbone of this industry. Yet, their testimonies told stories of malnutrition, health issues, impoverishment, hunger and domestic abuse. Many girls were forced to drop out of school. Muslim women dealt with the double-edge sword of gender discrimination and communalism.

Earlier, at a CJP event, Saraiya weaver Qaisar Jehan talked about how most mothers have resorted to adding salt to rice to feed their children.

“Thousands of people use the products that we use. Those people get benefits of various schemes from the government. We don’t,” she told SabrangIndia.

She criticised the government for creating schemes overnight but failing to make them accessible, especially for women. Because of this, women who worked on a meter of cloth for ₹100 nowadays earn ₹10 for the same length. Tikri workers who earned ₹ 100 for a meter of cloth nowadays earn ₹15 for the exact same length.

Another weaver Anjum Ara said, “Women are the backbone of the industry, but we have no work. My daughter and I can’t even find work as domestic help; if we do the pay is abysmal. Our men are doing daily wage labour, some are driving rickshaws.”

Policy decisions

As mentioned before the few weavers who approached the government said they were dissatisfied with the administration’s response. So, the Mandal advised that community-related schemes must be decentralised and made transparent for easy access. CJP recommended state-driven incentives for cooperatives at the village, taluka, and state.

During the survey, CJP found that the central government’s Pradhan Mantri Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) that was launched on May 1, 2016 did not reach grassroot level workers. Only 10 percent of the women interviewed were registered to get the ‘ujjwala gas’ under this scheme. The rest of the women tried to apply for the scheme multiple times but to no avail.

Like the PMUY, the Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) was also difficult to access. As many as 52 percent of the respondents did not have a PMJDY account. Among those who had such an account, only 58 percent received cash transfers more than once.

For these reasons, the Mandal and CJP urged central and state governments to ensure that all stakeholders in the industry are consulted before policies are framed and budgetary allocations are made. In line with this, the Mandal urged for an increase in the budget for the Textile Ministry.

“This Ministry has been receiving reduced allocations for the past many years,” said the Mandal.

It argued that the New Textile Policy 2020 should include provisions that help weavers get jobs within the state. This policy includes schemes like knitting and knitwear sector schemeAmended Technology Up-gradation Fund Scheme (ATUFS), National Handloom Development Programme, Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme, Handloom Weaver Comprehensive Welfare Scheme and Yarn Supply Schemes among others.

“This policy is dreaded by us weavers, like the three farm laws were dreaded by farmers. We ask the government that they include provisions to end migration and allow local employment if they want to enforce this policy,” said Adil.

Call for a National and Regional Campaign

Having visited and interviewed these communities, CJP said in its report that there is an urgent need for a sustained national-level and regional-level campaign for weavers. The drive will work towards a revival of the weaving industry that is closely linked to rural-urban livelihoods and India’s cultural heritage.

Participants will call for social security schemes for different levels of craftspersons, artisans and weavers with a special emphasis on women. For this, corporations and businesses must be contacted and pushed to realise their social responsibility when dealing with creators of products.

Elected representatives especially have to play a vital role in this movement. Moreover, all Indians and consumers should also get involved to voice their solidarity with this community.


Urgent need to revive and sustain Banarasi weaving industry

UP: Weavers persist battle for fixed rate electricity subsidy

Time for a nationwide movement to protect traditional weaving industry

Purvanchal: Silence of the Looms

Curtain raiser: The Warp and Weft of Despair in Purvanchal

Lockdown Impact: Filled forms, have Bunkar Card, yet got no help from gov’t



Related Articles