Mohammad Shamim Ansari’s family is into carpet weaving for more than a century. All his brothers are into this business, the younger one, Pervez an exporter running a company of Rs.70 crore annual turnover.
This 56-year-old separated from his family three decades back and started his own humble enterprise with a power loom in Bhadohi, a predominantly weavers town, around 45 kilometers from the holy town, Varanasi.
“The industry was at its peak then and we got orders in bulk from exporters,” he said, as he reminisced the glorious days. Soon he added four more looms in his house. All his six sons grew up learning the carpet weaving skills, while they also went to school.
Today, of the five mills, only one is in use. “There is no work order. Over the last few years, the demand has dropped drastically. Kailash Satyarthi got the Noble prize but in the bargain he ruined our industry,” he said showing the shut looms.
In the lanes and by lanes of Bhadohi and Mirzapur, India’s biggest carpet manufacturing hubs, Satyarthi and his Banchpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) have a bad name. Almost, every weaver and exporter blames the noble laureate for damaging their industry beyond repair. They blame him for defaming India’s carpet industry internationally over child labour issues.
Says Abdul Hadi, ex-secretary, All India Carpet Manufacturers Association (AICMA): “Over the last three years, exports have dropped to less than half. People are shutting mills and migrating to other places for jobs.”
A post on BBA website elaborates how in association with other international partners they launched a big consumer awareness drive in European countries and United States about the inhuman malpractices in carpet industry.
The post says consumers in these countries were ignorant of how children under the age of 14 years were being severely exploited for spinning the patterns. They were made to work for 14 to 16 hours a day without nutritious food and rest and were also subjected to physical, mental and sexual tortures.
Vinay Kapoor, ex-AICMA president and currently chairman of UP Carpet Promotion Council said carpet weaving is an art and a child learns this art from his father seeing him work. “It’s a cottage industry that is largely carried out in the homes of the weavers. Now if someone big manufacturer has engaged children at his workplace, the entire industry should not be punished,” he said.
As of records, the export oriented carpet industry directly and indirectly employs more than 25 lakh people. There are around 1800 carpet exporters in the country. Ever since BBA launched the awareness drive, the industry that was spinning an annual foreign exchange of Rs. 1,500 crores got reduced to Rs. 8,500 crore industry. Carpets from Bhadohi embellish the White House floors too.
But all is not lost for the exporters as the UP’s Akhilesh government has initiated several steps to help the industry retain its lost glory. People associated with the industry are elated and have pledged all support to the CM in the ongoing polls.
“In order to woo international buyers to Bhadohi and Mirzapur and take them to the weavers’ home for child right issues, the Akhilesh government has built a four lane road from Babatpur airport connecting the two towns. Construction of two over bridges on railway crossings is also almost complete. The government has built a Rs 200 crore worth Corporate Expo Mart in Bhadohi to hold exhibitions locally,” said local journalist, Qaiser Pervez.
Kapoor says “A little push from PM Modi and this industry has potential to spin Rs. 20,000 crore of annual foreign exchange. “Give looms to weavers, relax labour norms and impart training to women to increase their participation,” he said.