Bhagalpur silk fabrics are under the global spotlight. But, beneath all the sheen, the industry has a dark side as well, leaving the existence of its craftsmen in obscurity.
Bhagalpur is a town with historical importance situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga in the state of Bihar. Once considered as the biggest trade centre of Eastern India, the city is famous for its unique silk fabrics called ‘Tussah or Tusser’. Silk weaving is an age old tradition in the city. Fabrics produced in the city are famous both at the domestic and the international market. Bhagalpur cluster ranks the second highest, next to Karnataka in the production and exports of silk fabrics. It has been named as the Silk City due to its popularity for Bhagalpuri silk.
Bhagalpuri silk industry is 200 years old, with skills passed on to the craftsman over many generations. More than 35,000 handloom weavers, with 25,000 looms live in Bhagalpur. Total trade of Bhagalpur is approximately 100 crores per annum, 50% comprising domestic and 50% from the export market. Around 1,00,000 people are engaged in the work of separating silk threads from cocoons, and spinning the yarn to weave into cloth.
Silk fabrics made in Bhagalpur are being exported to countries like West Asia, Europe, U.S., and Japan. Home furnishings are becoming increasingly famous in the international market. Outfits designed with this exclusive silk fabric have gained immense popularity in ramp shows, and fashion weeks.
Is the Industry losing its sheen?
The industry makes 2 million meters of silk in a year. After reaching a profitable figure of Rs.3, 500 crore in 2007, silk exports are predicted to fall to Rs.2, 000 crore in 2009. Bhagalpur, once a booming place for silk fabric making is now losing its market to new centres such as Bangalore, and Ahmadabad. Lack of credit, power shortage, and increasing competition from the other silk manufacturing centres has put the Bhagalpur craftsmen under jeopardy. The subsidies offered by the Government to the silk making units in Bhagalpur are also drained off by some other people. Some of the looms are operated by generators, and are more dependent on them. Bhagalpur receives power supply only for two hours in a day. Chronic power cuts in the state have also intensified the problem.
The craftsmen are average people, with many of them living below the poverty line. While they make glorious fabrics for the elite people of the society, their lives always are in darkness. As the weavers are not able to grease the palms of officials they have problems in getting bank loans sanctioned. Most of them take loans from the market for an interest rate of 5% for a month. With the payments for their cloth getting delayed, they face problems in repayment. Possibilities exist that, weavers might shift for alternate source of earning, and leave the age old weaving tradition to deteriorate, and die gradually.
The silk industry of Bhagalpur is reeling under adverse conditions. The drying market is staring at the silk weavers, leaving them on the brink. Many factories are shut down, and weavers are moving to other cities, while some of them are doing labor works, and a few started selling vegetables. The silk industry of Bhagalpur is now fighting for a foothold.,