Banetha, an otherwise nondescript village in Rajasthan’s Dausa, is one of the four places in the country licensed to make the cloth for the national flag. (The other places are in Karnataka, Marathwada, and Barabanki in UP).
From about 25 families who wove the cloth here in 2009, the number has come down drastically to six now. And a few among them are considering shutting down and taking up other work.
“Mazdoori padti nahin hai, mantri kuchh karta nahin hai (The pay is insufficient and the Khadi Samiti official doesn’t do anything for us),” says Chhaju Lal Mahawar, a weaver from the village, who has been making the cloth for over 30 years.
His brother Babu Lal Mahawar stopped producing the cloth a few years ago.
The weavers make anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 a month, depending on the rolls of cloth they produce.
The Kshetriya Khadi Gramudyog Samiti, Dausa, gives them the raw cotton thread, which they process and weave into Khadi. The khadi tricolour has to be woven as per specifications with proper count of warps and wefts.
“It is of a special quality because the cloth of the flag must not become loose,” said Anil Sharma, the secretary of the Kshetriya Khadi Gramodyog Samiti, Dausa.
In another Dausa village, Alooda, which made the cloth for the first flag that was hoisted on the Red Fort after independence, the Khadi tricolour is no longer made. Son of Chhote Lal Mahawar, who was one of the two men who wove the cloth for the said flag, says that his father stopped weaving around 1965 and began working as a labourer.
Ask the weavers if they find pride in their work and the response is in the affirmative. Nathu Lal Mahawar does the same, but adds, “Naam toh ho raha hai lekin jab daam hi nahin mil raha toh kya karein (What good is the fame if we get little money).”
Producing one roll (15 metre) takes a minimum of two days, and fetches them Rs 200. A weaver works six hours daily and produces 10-15 rolls in a month. Often there is more than one person involved in the process and the dividends dip further.
The problems do not stop here. Showing a pile of rolls stacked on top of a shelf, Mangli Mahawar says that the Khadi Samiti has not bought the cloths from them for two months.
“The impact of demonetisation was so huge. What could we have done? We always make payments to them on time. Plus these weavers do it as a part-time work,” said Sharma.
Delay in purchase results in delay in payments and consequently, delay in supply of raw thread. To make ends meet, Mangli and her husband also run a grocery shop from the same room where they make the cloth.
Nathu, who was felicitated with the best weaver award by the district collector ten years ago, too, shows his pile of about 30 rolls of finished cloth that are yet to be bought by the Khadi Samiti.
Chhaju says that when his manually operated weaving machine got stuck, the Khadi Samiti secretary didn’t even send anybody to repair it. “I had to repair it myself. The old mantri, Ramdas, used to come here and listen to our problems. This one hasn’t come in 4-5 years,” he says.
The weavers of the district called a meeting on Wednesday to raise their issues with the Khadi Samiti. “The Khadi Samiti official has assured us that our wages will be raised latest by March,” said Chiranji Lal, president of some 700 weavers in the district. He also said that the Khadi Samiti made payment for the backlog of rolls of some 20 weavers on Thursday.
Regarding the hike in wages, the Khadi Samiti secretary said that it was not their discretion to raise it. “It is decided by the head office in Bombay. It’s not the issue of weavers of Dausa alone. When the officials of the entire state will meet and take the demand forward, then the budget chart will be revised and the wages will increase,” Sharma said.