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Weaving a New Story: Developing Sustainable Livelihoods Model for poor weavers in Benares

Varanasi or Benares is the 5th largest city in UP in terms of population. The traditional ‘benarasi’ weave has occupied a pride of place in weaving traditions of India for its distinctive “kadhua” brocades. It is also an art form representing a syncretic and composite Hindu Muslim culture. Per estimates, there are about 100,000 weavers in Varanasi – a number that could inflate up to five times given that weaving is largely a household activity.

Despite their high skill level, weavers at the Bottom of the pyramid in Varanasi are severely marginalised. Working conditions are poor and living conditions cramped, lacking basic infrastructure such as electricity and sanitation. An individual weaver earns between Rs 100-250 a day for 10-12 hours of work.

The most pressing need of the weavers, therefore, is to have their livelihoods secured. With oppressive levels of inflation (including that of food) in the country, it is all the more imperative to ensure that they get fair wages for their work or cases of weaver suicides will increase. Linked to this is the need to restore a sense of pride and dignity amongst weavers in creating handcrafted masterpieces for which they have been respected for generations. Unless this is done, the ‘benarasi’ weave could end up as another piece of lost heritage.

Duration:

April 2014- March 2016

Project Area

Clusters: Kotwa, Lohata and Ramnagar, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Project Objectives

With lead partner Traidcraft Exchange (UK) and funded by DFID-Poorest Areas Civil Society Programme (PACS), this project aims to build sustainable enterprises for 5000 weavers in Varanasi and improve their working conditions through:

  • Efficient, market friendly processes (input in skill and contemporary design)
  • Access to resources (working capital, infrastructure)
  • Increased demand for their products (consumer awareness and market creation)

Expected Outcomes

  • Weavers /artisans in Varanasi are organized and have increased bargaining power and representation
  • Weavers have the business capacity to build viable, sustainable enterprises
  • Weavers have increased social security through access to statutory and legal entitlements under relevant government schemes
  • Weavers have the technical capacity to produce high quality market-led products
  • Increased demand for weavers’ products in domestic and international markets