Barabanki: Mohammad Nafees, 47, has developed a habit of staring at his hand operated loom for hours every week since the lockdown to control COVID-19 was announced on March 24 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nafees is a handloom artist based in the Zaidpur town of Barabanki, famous for its handloom stoles which used to be exported to different cities of the world. But after the change in export policies in 2014, the handloom industry of the town has suffered from a major setback.
A lean man with bulging eyes, in a pale white shirt and blue coloured lungi, Nafees said, “The stole industry of Zaidpur was already on its deathbed and now this lockdown is like the last nail in the coffin.” He added, “The artists are struggling for work. Thread is not available in the markets and the stock is stuck in the transit.”
Explaining more about his ordeals, he told NewsClick, “I am a father of four kids and all of them were helping me in designing the stole but now with no work left we are struggling with our daily needs. We are left with money for a couple of days more and after that Allah knows how it will keep us alive.”
Showing the ration his family is left with, he said, “Since the last three weeks we have been surviving only on rice and lentils, that too without any spices. The vegetables are expensive and we cannot afford oil to cook. Our situation is getting worse with each day and I have asked my kids to try eating at least one meal in the bhandara (community kitchen).”
According to the 2011 census, the population of Zaidpur stood at 34,000 with majority belonging to minority community. The town now has less than 1,000 handlooms mostly operated by women as the men have migrated to other countries in search of jobs.
Mehrul Nisha, 37, who has been earning a livelihood for her kids by taking small orders of embroidery on handmade stoles said she has borrowed some money to save her kids from dying of hunger.
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“I was earning about Rs 2,700 to Rs 3,000 by doing small works which I used to get from the neighborhood handlooms. My husband is in Dubai and since the last two months he has also not sent any money from there. He went out to earn because there is no scope left here and now even I think that there is no end to our problems. If not corona then definitely the starvation due to lack of work will kill us,” she said.
She further said, “The workshops from where I was getting the work have also stopped because there is no work to do and the looms are not running anymore. I enquired about work in the entire village but everyone has finished their pending jobs and there is hardly any work left with anyone in the town. I am a bit worried as my husband is also stuck in Dubai and I do not know who to approach if I require help. Things are getting worse with each passing day.”
Azmi Rizvi, who has been working for the welfare of the loom operators and artists in Zaidpur also maintains that the situation of these people is pathetic.
“The situation is so bad that one you can count the ribs of people who do this work. There are many families who have been struggling even for two square meals due to the imposition of lockdown. The families have supported the government but are now on the verge of starvation. We have informed the gram pradhan and he has assured that help will reach them but nothing has happened so far,” he said.
The wholesale dealer and part time activist further added, “Another major problem of the town is that a lot of people who had migrated temporarily to Gulf countries for earning are stuck there and are unable to find any means to return. In this condition, the women who are living here are finding it hard to deal with the pandemic crisis.”