File photo of an artisan
File photo of an artisan

Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh): Around 20,000 artisans in Chanderi, Bagh and Maheshwar towns in the state are in dire straits. The two waves of the corona pandemic have chomped through their earnings.

With a ban on exhibitions and with markets closed for long periods, their sales have dipped. The traders are not making fresh purchases for they are already burdened with unsold stocks. The government, too, has not extended any help to them. “When our supreme leader is asking us to become Atmanirbhar, how can we expect any help?” asks Allauddin Ansari, a master craftsman from Maheshwar.

‘Worker pool is drying out’

According to Vijay Koli, a Chanderi master craftsman, the municipal town is home to around 25,000 families, of which 12,000 are associated with the production of Chanderi apparel. Koli, who used to employ around 50 workers, now has just 15 left. While the demand has dipped to 5 per cent, the cost of raw materials has skyrocketed. The price of silk thread used in making Chanderi sarees has increased from Rs 3,500 to Rs 6,000 per kg. “The government has simply forgotten about us. Let alone helping us, the government agencies have stopped buying our stocks,” he says.

Hike in cotton fabric price

Umar Faruk Khatri, a Bagh master craftsman, says the pandemic has reduced their business by 60-80 per cent. He used to organise exclusive exhibitions of his products every year at Gauhar Mahal in Bhopal. But they have not been held for two years now. He says some of his workers have migrated to Rajasthan and Gujarat in search of work. “We’ve been able to sell a very small part of our production online. The rest is lying in the godowns,” he says. He also complains of a hike in raw material prices. “Cotton fabric now costs Rs 50 per metre, up from Rs 20 per metre before Covid-19 struck,” he says.

Cloth locked in godown

Another Bagh master craftsman, Mohammed Bilal Khatri, says he, alone, has lost business worth Rs 20 lakh. He used to sell his products at exhibitions in foreign countries, as well as in major cities in the country. But all that has now stopped. “I’ve taken a cash credit (CC) limit of Rs 25 lakh and I’m paying some amount to my workers so they can survive,” he says. Around 10,000 metres of cloth and 1,000 suits are locked in his godown. “Yes, shops have reopened, but where are the buyers?” he asks. Around 2,000 artisans in Bagh are dependent on this work for their livelihood.

All the artisans say that, in their times of distress, neither the Mignayanee chain of government-owned emporiums, nor the Laghu Udyog Nigam is coming forward to buy their products.

‘On the verge of starvation’

According to Ansari, Maheshwari products worth Rs 10 crore are lying unsold in the town. “What’s Rs 10 crore for the government? We only want them to buy our goods and make payments at the earliest possible opportunity,” he says. “But now, the workers are on the verge of starvation,” he says. Around 5,000 artisans in Maheshwar are associated with this work here. Most of them are doing odd jobs, such as selling vegetables and working as labourers due to the pandemic, says Ansari.

The artisans say that the government should lift the ban on exhibitions and do something to help the artisans. “They’re talented, self-respecting and hardworking people. They deserve help,” says Koli.

Nationally known centres

Chanderi in Ashoknagar, Bagh in Dhar and Maheshwar in Khargone district are nationally known centres of production of traditional handloom textiles.

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