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|March 25, 1999||
Spinning into oblivion
Anand Gopal Jaiswal in Ranipur
Time was when this little village in Uttar Pradesh was the hub of a booming handicraft industry.
Today the weavers are near starvation. Reduced to selling land, looms, spinning wheels, cattle, anything to sustain themselves, many have changed their occupation. To rolling beedis.
At its root is, yes, government apathy.
Located some 60 kilometres from Jhansi on UP's border with Madhya Pradesh, the handicraft industry in Ranipur dates back to the 17th century. The King of Orcha, Jujhar Singh Judev, set it up in 1657. With about 40,000 weavers, Ranipur started spinning magic into cotton. Later, it switched over to polyster and texturised khadi, carving out a niche with its inexpensive pricing and superior-finished cloth.
''The more you wash it the more it shines, beta, while the cloth from Mumbai mills shine in the beginning but fade with every wash," says 70-year-old Shanti.
Among the factors that have brought the industry to its knees is the power supply. Rather, the lack of it. The weavers' demand for a processing unit fell on deaf ears. As a result, the artisans, mostly from the backward class, Koris, failed to keep up with modern tastes.
Government help remains just a hope, despite repeated requests, pleadings and litigation. Result: 60 per cent of the powerlooms have been shut down, and the production of the famed 'Ranipur terrycot' nosedived. The weavers now produce only safi (a towel), that too for some businessman in a distant town, not for own marketing.
The cost of terrycotton has now touched, from the Rs 8 of the past, Rs 24 a metre. ''If the situation continues, within three years this tradition will die an unsung death,'' says Manoj Gupta, a social activist.
Meanwhile, people accused Loktantrik Congress legislator Bihari Lal Arya, who, despite being from the area and the small-scale industry minister, haven't lifted a finger to help.
Jhabua Ram, who once had 13 people working under him, has sent two of his three sons away to the city as labourers.
Juna Devi wept while saying, ''I cannot provide even a square meal for my children with the money I make from rolling beedis . Earlier, we had six pairs of powerloom machines.''
Having fallen on bad days, Mogua chacha is now plain Mogua to the villagers. He reminisced the years of prosperity when he was the only one with an imported motor bike in the entire village.
''The administration didn't bother, saheb, otherwise we would have been the flag-bearers of prosperity in the whole of Bundelkhand. Even now it is not late. But soon it will be, as more weavers are quitting in desperation,'' he said.
Migration has already started. At least one from every family has gone to the city in search of greener pastures. The exercise has doubled since last year, with entire families shifting to either the suburbs of cities or moving to other villages.
Gokul Prasad, 38, working 12-14 hours at the powerloom, is able to earn just enough to keep body and soul together. His employer gets so little a margin that a decent salary is beyond him. Five years ago when Prasad, an outstanding weaver, worked for himself, he used to easily make Rs 25-30 a day.
The only chance for the Ranipurites is that the government steps in. With uninterrupted power supply, a solid rehabilitation package, an avenue for the villagers to sell their wares, and the setting up of training camps for weavers. Plus, of course, enough funds for them to get restarted and excise and custom free yarn.
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