Not so long ago, Azamgarh was known for the fine weave of its Banarsi silk saris. Handloom weavers spread all over this district in east Uttar Pradesh sold their produce to traders and retailers at Varanasi, from where these are still supplied to all over the country and abroad.
The looms all over the district now sit idle, except in one town -- Mubaraqpur. Even here, only about 200 of the 1,100 installed looms still work, providing employment to not more than 1,000 people. At its peak, 40,000 people in the district drew their livelihood from the trade. The association of weavers at Mubaraqpur has downed its shutters.
Most handloom weavers have now become workers and live on daily wages. The pall of economic gloom is there for all to see. Anguish and frustration among the weaver families is palpable.
Several recent terror trails have led to Azamgarh and its predominantly Muslim towns and villages. Behind the accusations that fly thick and fast lies a tale of economic deprivation. And nothing signifies it better than the literal collapse of the local Banarsi sari industry.
Several factors have contributed to it. Handloom productivity is low when compared to power looms. The weavers have found it impossible to pass on the rise in silk thread prices to their buyers. And imported silk from China proved to be the final straw. Silk exporters in Varanasi said embroidery on Chinese silk is easy and it is more affordable.
According to Ghulam Nabi, a weaver at Mubaraqpur, a sari fetches not more than Rs 300 now, down from Rs 500 a couple of years ago. A hand-woven sari can take up to six days to make. Obviously, the return on labour is down.
Abu Baqar Siddiqui, who still goes to Varanasi with a box of saris, said that none of the town's youth wants to join the profession of weaving.
"It is only women and old people who have kept this profession alive," he said. But he was hopeful that the situation could improve if the state government gave some help to the weavers in procuring the raw material.
People of Sanjarpur, the village of the two young men killed for allegedly planting bombs in Delhi, left the weaving profession long back.
Deprived of higher education, the young and the restless of the village have no option but to take up jobs in West Asia or Mumbai. Not only weaving, even the crop area has shrunk in Sanjarpur. The ingredients of discontent are all here.