Attack on traditional skill: Zardosi weavers now sell vegetables

The traditional skill of weaving metal threads of gold and silver have been hit by the economy and economic policies, rendering millions jobless

Photo by: Prabhat Singh
Photo by: Prabhat Singh

Prabhat Singh

Our family has been patronising Iqbal’s zari work for several decades. It therefore came as a shock when I called him the other day and was told that his workshop had shut down. The last time I had visited the workshop, not too long ago but before the lockdown, there were 12 to 14 people working there still though he grumbled about hard days and GST having caused havoc with the traditional handicraft.

He was worried and had confided that a majority of e-rickshaw drivers in the town, and vegetable sellers, were earlier weavers and embroiders of threads made of fine gold and silver. They wove fine patterns with the metallic threads, a craft they had learnt from childhood in their families. But first the GST and then the lockdowns induced by the pandemic have destroyed the industry.

Disruption of the supply chain led to orders drying up. Export orders from Delhi and Jaipur were reduced to a trickle, forcing the workshops to shut down. One of the better off traders Md Nasir grumbles that families no longer wanted to get their daughters married to people engaged in the trade. The craftsmen today barely manage to get work and while the skilled workers can hope to earn up to Rs 200 a day, the unskilled workers get paid a paltry Rupees 80 a day. Selling vegetables, driving e-rickshaws and taxis have absorbed some of them. A few even earn Rs 500 or more a day.

The art and craft of weaving the metallic threads and doing embroideries came to India from Iran and Afghanistan. For the past several centuries it flourished in several towns of Uttar Pradesh. President of the weavers’ and embroiders’ association Mukhtar Ansari claims there were 200,000 of these craftsmen working in Bareilly alone.

Under the ‘One District One Product’ scheme of the Uttar Pradesh Government, Zari and Zardosi work was identified with Bareilly. Ironically, ODOP aimed to preserve and promote the craft, ensure increase in income of craftsmen and employment opportunities besides improving the quality of work. What has happened on the ground is just the opposite.

In as many as eight districts out of 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh were Zari and Zardosi identified as the most prominent product. They were Badaun, Shahjahanpur, Kasganj, Chandouli, Lalitpur, Unnao and Lucknow besides Bareilly. The GI tag however was conferred to ‘Lucknow Zardosi’ in 2013.

The system of aprenticeship has also suffered a blow. Most workshops would train young children as apprentices and pay them a stipend. The better ones would in curse of time get absorbed in the team of weavers and start getting paid more.

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