Traders send blueprints of Banarasi sari designs to be mass-produced in Surat
The mainstay of the Banarasi sari, woven with expensive natural yarn such as Chinese silk and cotton, is its design. What was an organic and handmade process, however, has now, to the dismay of weavers, been hijacked by technology to abet mass production — power looms in Surat ensure that designs of synthetic and polyester yarns are produced in bulk in quick time.
To facilitate this, traders in Varanasi have got into the practice of taking pictures of designs on their smartphone and ‘WhatsApping’ copies of it to traders in Surat.Automated looms
In Surat, automated looms ‘copy’ these designs, print them on fabric and send the saris back to traders in Varanasi in large quantities. Abundant power supply, yarn and cheap labour ensures that Surat can produce five times the volume Varanasi can and around four times cheaper.
The system works well for traders and silk store-owners like Tamanna Ahmed, who buy samples of designs from weavers in Varanasi and, using WhatsApp, order finished products of the same design from Surat at a cheaper price. Customers also benefit as they can buy the intricate designs of the Banarasi sari at the cost of the inexpensive Surat fabric.
Technology seems to have revolutionised the Banarasi sari industry, which has over the years lagged due to competition, dependence on manual techniques and government apathy. In all this, however, the weavers find themselves at a loss. For them, WhatsApp enables traders in Surat and Varanasi to collude to sell copies of their world-famous designs through the multimedia app. “With technology, no design is safe. Earlier, a single design would last for 3 years, now it’s hardly exclusive for more than three months,” says Mr. Ahmed.
Atiq Ansari, a prominent weaver who shared the stage with Aam Aadmi Party convenor Arvind Kejriwal in his rally in Varanasi last week, says weavers feel robbed by the “copying” of designs. “Traders from Surat have copied our designs from the last 15 years. They would visit Varanasi and steal the designs and later replicate the fabric with mass production,” says Mr. Ansari.
“With the use of technology [and WhatsApp],” Mr. Ansari adds, “the situation has worsened in just the last 3-4 years. It’s the final blow to the hopes of the poor weavers. Since the creator is suffering, this is, overall, bad for the industry.”
The Banarasi sari business has been in flux since the 1960s when recession in handloom compelled weavers to shift to power looms.
Good margins, demand and competition led to the growth of a parallel printing industry in the 1970s-80s, which Mr. Ansari describes as a golden period. However, the industry suffered a decline after the H.D. Deve Gowda government banned import of Chinese silk yarn. Since the 1990s, recession has compelled weavers to migrate to textile cities like Surat and Mumbai in search of a livelihood.Election buzz
In Varanasi, where Mr. Kejriwal is to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the AAP is wooing the weavers, who represent a major chunk of the 3 lakh Muslims in the constituency. Acknowledging their electoral worth, Mr. Modi, in his rally here last December, too had sought to strike a chord with the weavers. However, according to Mr. Ansari, the weavers were not impressed by Mr. Modi’s comparing the textile industries of Surat and Varanasi. “Can Modi show us a blueprint on how he can prevent Surat from copying our designs and ruining us?” he asks. “Like all previous problems, we can deal with the other problems, but it is practically impossible to prevent Surat from copying our designs,” says Arshad Meraj, a weaver. “The government has ignored the implementation of the power loom upgradation scheme. So we doubt it can implement its idea of patenting the Banarasi Sari,” he says.