Volume 2 Issue 88| July 31, 2010 |


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From Bogra

Bogra's 'blanket village' in full flow

In the harsh winters of the north, people look to winter wear and blankets hailing from Shaoil Bazaar to keep them warm. From Bogra comes the story of the largest winter clothing hub in north Bengal.

Selina Sheuly

THE 'blanket village' in Adomdighi, Bogra is now home to sleepless residents. From kindergarteners to grown men and women, the entire population is fervently producing blankets. While some are arranging thread, others are busy attaching them to knitting needles, and yet others are winding them around bobbins. Meanwhile, the men of the families are busy making blankets at the loom. Things are the same for around 50 of the surrounding villages. The symphonic racket of the looms floods the villages.

The Muroil bus stand is situated in Adomdighi Upazilla, 27 kilometers west of the town of Bogra. A further 3 kilometers to the north by a paved road is Shaoil bazaar. The villages surrounding the bazaar are home to the loom workers. Even the farmers here weave in their free time. Almost all the homes ring with the sound of working looms morning to midnight. While those with fertile land may not make weaving their profession, the majority of the people in the villages have livelihoods associated with the trade. Nearly 50,000 people from these villages rely on this craft, some by tradition and others by choice. As a result, the area has become famous to the surrounding villages as the 'blanket village'.

The villages surrounding Shaoil are spitting images of each other. The residents of these villages begin their production of blankets well before winter arrives. Rabid work continues well into winter but then the pace slackens till the next season. Everything from sweaters, blankets and bed sheets to shawls, towels and 'lungis' are produced. All the clothing made is sold at Shaoil bazaar.

Bogra's only railway junction is at Shantahar railway station at the west end of the district. After the liberation of Bangladesh, traders would sell old jumpers and sweaters at this station. Since well before that, craftsmen wove and sold sarees, lungis and towels. As the communication system was very poor back then, trading was restricted to Shaoil bazaar only. These products were quite popular and gradually the demand increased. Buyers would frequent Shaoil bazaar or the villages themselves to make purchases. With the increase in demand, the villagers faced a thread crisis, which they compensated for by buying the old jumpers from Shantahar station. This reduced the costs and increased their profits, and they stepped up and began the production of blankets. Soon came the inception of shawl production, and Shaoil acquired the nickname 'blanket village'. These events span 15
years, after which a market for used winter clothing established itself centered on Shaoil bazaar, accelerating the rate of production. Slowly, Shaoil became a makeshift mill for winter clothing without any government assistance or promotion.

Shaoil is not only a center for the production of winter clothing, but is a major hub for tailoring supplies as well. These include looms, thread, dyes, spinning wheels and spools. These traders open their shops seven days a week. Around 800 thread shops have set up around the bazaar, with dyed threads lining the shelves. These shops employ around 5,000 people as day labours, the majority of whom are women coming from low-income families in Adomdighi, Dupchachia, Kahalu and Jaipurhat's Akkelpur upazillas. Everyday these labours work from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon, arranging thread, spooling thread or dyeing them. All the work is done for a meager 30 to 70 taka per day. Most of the women working here have either been abandoned by their husbands or are widowed. After speaking to some of the labourers, it was clear that the vast majority have little or no land at home, and therefore they had come seeking work at Shaoil. However, they were all unhappy about their measly wages.

Quite a few tailoring families also make their living here. Members of which said that most of their trading is done on market day. The south side of Shaoil is the hereditary home of loom workers. Koshimuddin Sheikh, a loom worker here, describes the process of making blankets ' Thread is bought from the bazaar and spooled. Then the spools are arranged in a line and the looming begins. Each blanket requires 60-65 spools of thread and some more. Atleast 1.5 kilograms of thread is required for a simple blanket, and up to 3 kilos for a heavy one.'

Each day a loom worker makes 3 to 4 blankets. Another loom worker, Ayub Uddin informed us that large sheets and blankets are made on big looms, while shawls, single blankets, towels and clothing are made on smaller ones.

The production depends on the demand, and therefore there is plenty of need for coloured thread. However, most of the thread found in the markets has faded colours. As a result, most loom workers dye the thread themselves. Because of this the streets and ponds of Shaoil and surrounding areas are a spectrum of colours, with some areas coloured crimson and others pitch black. Almost 500 families are in the thread colouring trade, according to dyer Jobbar. ' The thread is bought from the shop and soaked in dye. Afterwards, it is placed on a stove and boiled in water. Subsequently it is dried and sent to the bazaar to be sold.'

North Bengal has no bigger bazaar for winter clothing. Though hand loomed clothes are found in Shahzadpur in Pabna, the supply there is sparse and the demand is rarely met. Resultantly, people come from all over to Shaoil bazaar despite the poor road network. Buyers from the areas of the country that are affected greatest by the winter, Kurigram, Thakurgao, Ponchogor, Dinajpur, Rongpur along with Jessore, Chapai Nobabgonj, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Kushtia and Pabna regularly go to Shaoil to buy wholesale winter wear. Clothes from here not only protect against the cold, but are trendy as well. On market day, sales start from dawn and continue well into the afternoon, with traders having camped there since the night before.


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