Some 500,000 silk weavers here regard the Gujarat development model as a parasite. For it has bombarded the market with machine-made fake Banarasi silks, sucking their livelihood.
Sari traders in Varanasi annually purchase `250 crore cheap synthetic silks including Banarasi clones from Surat in Gujarat. This is pushing traditional hand-woven Banarasi saris off the shelves.
The trade imbalance has now made weavers wonder what Narendra Modi meant by using a Gujarati proverb — “Surat nu jaman, Kashi nu maran” — at a rally in Varanasi on December 20 last year.
The proverb translates into ‘Surat best for food, Kashi (Varanasi) best for death’. The weavers want Modi to assure Surat’s hunger does not ring the death knell for Kashi’s handloom industry.
“The very development model Modi talks about has made our lives miserable. We want him to tell us what he will do to stop the cheap and fake Gujarati Banarasi saris from flooding our market,” Moibeen Ahmad, secretary of Bunkar Hastkar Morcha, told HT.
An original Banarasi, which involves intricate embroidery, takes up to 20 days to be customer-ready and costs between `4,000-10,000.
A Surat fake can be bought for `300-1,000. For Muhammad Ashraf Ansari, weaving Banarasis for 35 years, the signs are ominous. Others, like Shahid Alam, have taken to selling biscuits and chips.
Modi did promise help for the weavers, a potent voting bloc, in his December rally. So did Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal last week.
But many in Varanasi feel Surat saris have boosted trade. “They are catering to the demand,” industrialist Ashok Kapoor said.
The trade, he added, is not just one-way traffic. Gujarat is a major consumer of Varanasi metal craft.
“The metal craft business between Varanasi and Gujarat, worth `10 crore annually, is much older than the sari trade between Kashi and Surat,” Ghanshyam Das, bell manufacturer, said.