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Azamgarh's looms once embroidered Benarasi silks

Nursery of terror? That may be the epithet bestowed on this township now, but it was once famous for something beautiful - intricate Benarasi sari embroidery crafted by the looms and hands of its Muslim weavers.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2008 09:36 IST
Rajat Rai
Rajat Rai

Nursery of terror? That may be the epithet bestowed on this township now, but it was once famous for something beautiful - intricate Benarasi sari embroidery crafted by the looms and hands of its Muslim weavers.

Until about five years ago, Azamgarh district housing Sarai Meer, 270 km from the state capital, churned out of some of the best hand-embroidered silk.

But now cheaply available China silk, which is easier to work on, has replaced the Benarasi silk and the younger generation has migrated to Gulf countries in search of better job opportunities.

"An unskilled labourer, say, a driver or a cook, in the Gulf earns around Rs.30,000 per month as compared to the skilled embroidery expert who only manages about Rs.3,000 per month. How can we expect the youngsters to stay back and assist us in our traditional work?" Abu Bashar Siddiqui, from whose family six youths are working in the United Arab Emirates, told IANS.

The cottage industry, which saw saris being sent here from Varanasi for embroidery, was the sole bread winner for most of the Muslim-dominated villages of Azamgarh district. Such was the beauty that came out of this land, now accused of breeding terror.

In Mubarakpur village, which had over 1,000 handlooms, only 200 are functional now. And over 2,500 looms in the villages of Sarai Meer are lying idle.

Those still operational are used for rather commonplace work weaving bedsheets for the traders of Gorakhpur and Mau districts.

"Most people still engaged in this work are aged people. As making a bedsheet takes less time and the wages are equal to that of a Benarasi silk sari, all the functioning looms have switched to this," explained Madhuri Sharma, owner of an international export firm of Azamgarh.

Embroidery on a Benarasi silk sari used to take two to three days and the wages were Rs.100 per day. But the bedsheets take only a day to complete at similar wages, she added.

Owing to China silk that is easily available in Varanasi, 90 km away, most people engaged in embroidery work have shifted base there. Also, Varanasi is better connected to the national and international market.

"These people can be called the last generation engaged in this work as their sons and grandsons have migrated to Gulf countries," Sharma added.

China silk takes less labour and time than the original heavy Benarasi silk.

"China silk is lighter and the saris do not fetch the same price as compared to the original. But they take less pain and time, so the experts have shifted to it," Sharma said.

Ghulam Nabi, a weaver of Mubarakpur village who has shifted to Varanasi, said: "This (China silk) only fetches Rs 200-300 per piece as compared to the Rs 500-2,000 that we used to get a couple of years ago."

Migration of the younger generation has also played a vital role in driving this industry to extinction.

Sanjarpur, the village of over a dozen terror suspects, also had a prosperous embroidery industry, but no longer.

"Besides opting for unskilled employment opportunities in Mumbai and the Gulf, our youngsters are now going in for professional studies to earn a better and decent living," said Khalid, whose younger brother Sajid was killed in a police encounter in Delhi for alleged involvement in the serial blasts in the capital last month.

Sarai Meer has emerged as an important centre supplying manpower to the industries of Mumbai. Two placement agencies here supply skilled as well as unskilled workers, mainly to Mumbai and also to Gulf countries.

The number of passport applications received from Azamgarh district is the highest from the whole of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

"We get nearly 1,500 applications every month. Most passport seekers are from Sarai Meer and adjoining places," Azamgarh Superintendent of Police Ramit Sharma told IANS.

First Published: Oct 03, 2008 09:33 IST