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Updated: March 31, 2014 00:42 IST

WhatsApp worsens Varanasi weavers’ woes

Omar Rashid
Comment (12)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
Trader Tamanna Ahmad displays pictures of silk
fabric clicked on his phone. Photo: Omar Rashid
Trader Tamanna Ahmad displays pictures of silk fabric clicked on his phone. Photo: Omar Rashid

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.

We as Indians should stop 'copying designs' and start creating designs
(now we cannot say we don't have required tools). WhatsApp or anyother
App should be used for betterment of 'livelihood' and not to 'kill
originality'.
In the long run we will only do catchup will the rest of the world and
will never become a developed country, be it with BJP or Congress or Any
other democratic party in Power.
Ofcourse measures to be adopted to safeguard one's creativity by
patenting and also channels should be made available to punish
'copycats'.

from:  G Subash
Posted on: Apr 1, 2014 at 11:04 IST

For Surat's advantage "Abundant Power Supply" is the key. Keep voting for your Mulayam's & Maya's & continue suffering 16-18 hours power cuts. After all maintaining caste/jihadi identity is of greatest importance. Is'nt it???

from:  Anish Khindri
Posted on: Apr 1, 2014 at 09:56 IST

Now The Hindu is pitting one Indian city against another for the sole
hope of raising anti-Modi wave in Varanasi in the fond hope defeating
him there. Hindu has also started to blame WhatsApp too, another
'Zionist' conspiracy I guess given that the founder is a Jewish
immigrant from Ukraine! I think The Hindu will serve the country
better by figuring out how did Gujarat manage to provide abundant
electricity, yearn or cheap labour for the business to flourish there
while most other Indian states languish in poverty and blackouts
instead of begrudging Gujarat's success. Buyers who want Benarasi sari
will buy a real Benarasi sari even when it costs higher than Surati
sari and those who are looking for cheap copies will go for one
knowingly. In other words two types of clientele being served by two
different categories of saris. Varanasi weavers would do better by
asking UP govt to provide them better facilities and removing other
bottlenecks so that they can be more competitive.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 17:02 IST

I don't understand how the author could blame only whatsapp in this
article.Many apps are there which may be used for sending multimedia
messages.

from:  Mamoon
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 14:20 IST

survival of fittest . Learn to adopt or perish. No politicians can do
anything .

from:  anil
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 13:42 IST

For me the key takeaway is

Abundant power supply, yarn and cheap labour ensures that Surat can
produce five times the volume Varanasi can and around four times cheaper

from:  Ananth
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 13:24 IST

Another piece against Modi by The Hindu in the pretext of weavers using WhatsApp.

from:  Avnish
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 13:19 IST

As Narendra Modi's Government provides abundant power supply and other
facilities to Surat, The Varanasi weavers should be optimistic with him,
as he will provide the same, thus increasing production and competition
leading to better market situation and may pave the way fo increase
export of these products. The designs can be protected by rights the
same way big designers protect theirs. Kejriwal is also no guarentee for
their situation! The ways of working of both the politicians is in front
of the weavers, they should choose wisely.

from:  Abhishek Gor
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 12:32 IST

"Who moved my cheese".

Nilekani and Modi and Kejriwal should spend their money and IT expertise to help the
Banarasi weavers to use Whatsapp and Facebook and everything else to show the artistic
expertise and weaving designs and fabric quality in a deluge of marketing to get true worth
for their wares. USE TECHNOLOGY TO BEAT THE COMPETITION.

from:  rsachi
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 11:05 IST

Indian and state governments should assist weavers and other artists to take pictures, and apply for design patents as soon as they develop a design. Patent office should develop a system that makes it easy to apply for, quick to review, and grant such patents free of cost to registered artisans. Today the problem may be with Surat and soon it will be with other countries. Smart Indians should look for solutions and not merely to blame politicians.

from:  Som Karamchetty
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 09:27 IST

System of copyright should be started and artist of Varanasi should get their designs first registered then those who transmit and collude and those who copy and print in Surat can be punished and Varanasi weavers can get compensation for design theft

from:  S. Vatsya
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 08:40 IST

I don't understand this article's fixation with WhatsApp. It may be the
app of choice for these traders, but there are any number of photo
messaging services that they could use just as easily. For some reason
this author suggests that WhatsApp is uniquely responsible for this
phenomenon.

from:  Kaushik
Posted on: Mar 31, 2014 at 06:08 IST
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