Against all odds how Varanasi’s saree weavers fought the pandemic effect
Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest living cities. Located on the left bank of the Ganga, it is not just a major centre of spirituality but also a cradle of learning, music, traditional handicrafts, all epitomising India’s syncretic culture. The city produces some of the world’s finest silk sarees that have traditionally been part of Indian weddings, both Hindu and Muslim. The handloom and handicraft industry is India’s second largest source of employment. But lockdown after lockdown in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted the business and its workers. It has led to nearly 0.15 million handlooms being shut down that left nearly 20,000 women weavers in a financial crisis. But some women are changing the game. Urmila works in a rural self-help group (SHG) under the National Rural Livelihood Mission – a government programme to boost rural incomes. The model has been known to improve incomes in poor households in rural India. Upskilling local women, SHGs help them set up machinery, markets and more as they train them in entrepreneurship. From finding creative solutions in the market for the marginalised community’s business to leading an independent business model, these weavers are paving the future of self-reliance – one Banarasi silk saree at a time.