Lockdown leaves handloom weavers hanging by a thread

Thousands of people who depend on weaving the famous Chanderi sarees, which have a significant demand in big cities, have been rendered jobless | Image - Eunice Dhivya

"We did not even have the money to bring back my father’s dead body from the hospital. I had to borrow ₹4,000 for an ambulance. Now the responsibility of my three sisters and an aging mother is on me. But I have no work. I have four looms, of which three have been shut for months now due to lack of work,” says Krishna Narayan Koli, 28, a weaver from Chanderi’s Pranpur village in Madhya Pradesh.

On 28 May 2020, Koli’s father, Jai Narayan Koli, 59, died of a heart attack. No hospital — neither the one in Ashok Nagar, 45 km away nor the Rani Laxmi Bai Hospital which is a 100 km away in Jhansi admitted Jai Narayan Koli on the suspicion that he was COVID-19 infected. Amidst this run-around, he was declared dead.

“He never talked about it, but he was under huge financial stress caused by the lockdown,” says Koli.

Chanderi, surrounded by the Betwa River and hills, is a small qasba (town) in Ashok Nagar district of Madhya Pradesh. Due to lack of water, farming is not a viable option in the area. Almost all households here depend on weaving of the famous Chanderi sarees, which have a significant demand in big cities or related work. Before the lockdown, there were over 5,000 functioning looms employing more than 25,000 people. The lockdown that was imposed as a public health measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 also had a debilitating effect on the entire economy. In Chanderi, almost every loom was forced to shut down, leading to huge unemployment, coupled with fear of starvation. The contraction of demand that followed in the wake of a plummeting economy did not help.

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