The army was deployed and indefinite curfew clamped on Saturday in the silk town Sualkuchi in Assam's Kamrup (rural) district following protests against use of artificial silk during which 14 persons were injured in a police firing.
The district administration called in the army after imposing the prohibitory orders under section 144 Cr P C from 2:00 pm to contain a second day of protests by weavers who called a 12-hour bandh, official sources said.
The mob of protestors, mostly mulberry silk products traders and weavers from the area, went on a rampage raiding business houses and burning of heaps of ‘fake silk’, which they allegedly was being traded by a section of unscrupulous traders at a cheaper price.
The protesters converged on the main market area on Saturday morning and urged the State Bank of India branch to down shutters as a bandh was on, the sources said.
As clashes ensued in the area, police and paramilitary personnel were rushed to the town to control the situation. The police first resorted to lathicharge and bursting of teargas shells but later started firing when the situation was went out of control with some of the protestors pelting stones on the men in uniform.
A senior official informed that indefinite curfew was clamped in Sualkuchi town and the army had been deployed to bring the situation under total control. He informed that three of the injured were policemen including Additional Superintendent of Police Hemanta Das. Three other seriously injured persons with bullet injuries were rushed to Guwahati Medical College Hospital.
Expressing concern over the situation, Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said while the apprehensions expressed by the handloom weavers were genuine but nobody should take the law into their own hands. "The handloom industry has to be saved but we do not believe that burning clothes brought from outside is the solution. We believe nobody should take the law into their own hands," Gogoi told reporters. "The weavers of Sualkuchi should take steps to popularise their craft."
Education and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, under whose constituency Sualkuchi falls, said the situation in the town was tense. He said he had ordered the best treatment for those injured in the police firing.
On complaints about police brutality, Sarma said, "I have just returned from New Delhi and I am not yet completely aware under what circumstance the police took action. But I will ask the DC to hold an inquiry into the matter." He said he had asked the DC of Kamrup Rural district to call a meeting with weavers tomorrow to discuss the issue.
"Sualkuchi silk products are expensive as they are made using ancient techniques which have evolved over centuries. Unscrupulous elements have been bringing cheaper products made on powerlooms from Varanasi and selling them as genuine Sualkuchi products," Sarma said.
However, Bharatiya Janata Party MP, representing Guwahati Lok Sabha Constituency, Bijoya Chakraborty blamed the utter failure of the incumbent Congress government in Assam towards setting up of a ‘yarn bank’ in Sualkuchi and stated that the traditional silk garments producers from Sualkuchi were being cheated by private yarn merchants who are dictating terms in absence of a government yarn bank.
The weavers alleged that artificial silk brought from other parts of the country for making the ‘mekhela’ (traditional Assamese attire) was affecting them and the silk industry in the state. They also alleged the silk clothes the shops were selling were not pure Assamese golden Muga Silk and white Paat Silk as the clothes burnt turned to ash unlike pure silk.
The local people, who reared silk worms and were employed in the weaving industry, have been on a warpath for some time against the use of artificial silk from outside by traders for preparing traditional attires as it was cheap and had a better finish than the local silk varieties.
They claimed local weavers, who used looms for weaving, were unemployed because of the machine-made products while silkworm rearing had become extinct due to the lack of market for the expensive silk. They also charged the state government had assured them to give Rs 100 crore for the survival of the Assam Paat and Muga silk industry facing stiff competition from artificial silk but the funds were yet to be released.
Handloom and Textile and Sericulture Minister Pranati Phukan said she would take steps to ensure that a proper inquiry was made into the use of artificial silk and goods brought from outside the state being touted as genuine handloom from Sualkuchi. "It is true that fake items have made their way into the market," she added.
Sarma also asked the Handloom and Textile Department to create a new trademark for Sualkuchi silk.
With inputs from PTI