The Tale of Silk Sari Weavers
The real picture of the Mirpur silk industry
Md Yunus works in Joynal Silk Industry. Every month he earns Tk 2,000 to 2,500 by making silk saris. He has to maintain a four member family. With this modest income he buys food and clothes, pays house rent, children's school fees, books, and medical expenses. Living costs are increasing day by day. But the income of weavers like Yunus is decreasing day by day. Yunus's predicament is shared by many of the weavers of Mirpur's silk industry.
According to Yunus, most of the weavers of this industry work from 6 am to 11 pm. But they earn a pittance for such hard work. Even some years ago silk sari weavers earned Tk 4,000 to 5,000 per month. "Those days were much better for us," Yunus says. Things have changed. The income has gone down to such an extent that weavers are seriously considering leaving their forefathers' business.
But most silk industry workers like Yunus have learnt only weaving saris and do not know of any other source of income.
Md. Shahed Ali works in Rokshana Silk Kutir. He condemns owners of the industry for not paying wages on time. "Most of the times they (owners) do not pay workers' wage regularly," says Shahed. He says that when workers want their full pay the owner tells them that if they do not like to work here they can go to another place. If they die for lack of medical treatment or food they have nothing to do.
The silk industry is an important sector in Bangladesh. Our silk saris and silk products (wall mats, window shades) are exported to India, Japan, Italy, Canada, USA and many other Middle East countries. Last year Hanif Silk Industry's silk sari got the first prize in an Indian Silk Mela. The real praise for this achievement should go to the workers, the weavers. But instead they are exploited by the owners. They are deprived of basic needs like three square meals a day, medical care, clothes and education.
From the owners' point of view too, things are not so rosy. Locally made silk saris are facing stiff competition from low-quality Indian silk saris. According to the owner of Hanif Silk Industry Md. Hanif, they produce quality silk products, but cannot compete with the Indian silk products. Most of the Indian silk saris and products are not good in quality but come in great varieties in terms of design and are usually cheaper than local products thus, drawing more customers.
Hanif says, "The government is not doing anything to stop smuggling of Indian silk saris into the country. The local market is flooded with them, while the local weavers are not getting orders for more saris. A huge amount of their products remain unsold in the storehouse. Due to this, the weavers' earning has fallen sharply." Raw materials of this industry are mostly imported from China, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Pakistan and India. With the continuos appreciation of the dollar, prices of these raw materials are also rising. At the same time the prices of the silk Benarasi or Jamdanis have remained the same, making it harder for the local industry to survive.
The owner of the Rokshana Silk Industry Md. Mahbub says, "In the 1980s to 1990s there were about 20,000 to 25,000 looms in Mirpur Benarasi Polli. But at present there are only 8,000 to 10,000 looms. In those days about 50,000 people worked in this industry. But now only about 15,000 to 20,000 people are in this occupation."
Hanif expresses his great concern that, if the government does not take immediate action against illegal Indian silk products flooding our market, they will ultimately lose both the national and international markets finally. The government should take steps advantaging the weavers and assuring their welfare. Hanif says, " There is a governmental system to pay up to Tk 18,000 loan for each weaver family. But after taking that loan they cannot return it in due time, they become indebted."
"Every political party promises that they will fulfil 'Benarasi Project' if they come to power. But when they come to power they forget their promise," Hanif says with deep resentment.
Jaya Silk Industries Manager Md. Alomgir says, "If the government patronises the industry it will not only help the weaver community but also the country's economy."
(R) thedailystar.net 2005