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'The Muslims have been betrayed many times'

May 12, 2014 15:21 IST

Image: Narendra Modi during a roadshow in Varanasi.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters Savera R Someshwar/ in Varanasi

'We cannot forget 2002. We cannot forget Modi's approach nor can we believe him.'

'The Sachar Committee says the lives of Muslims in India are even worse than that of the Dalits. Since the Congress has ruled for 50 of the 66 years, who is responsible for this?'

'When the Samajwadi Party got the opportunity, they gave us the gift of Muzaffarnagar. In some ways, this has been one of the worst riots ever.'

Varanasi's Muslim-dominated weaver community is disillusioned with the Congress and Samajawadi Party and far from being impressed with Modi. Savera R Someshwar/ listens in.

When you think of Varanasi, you think of the Ganga.

Of the city's innumerable chai and paan ki dukaans.

And of the exquisitely woven, stunningly rich, Benarasi saris.

But the weavers of Benaras, who have been battling for survival, don't expect any change after the election ends.

Two master weavers, both Muslims, both well-respected in the trade and in their community, speak about the elections and its impact on their trade and the communities in Varanasi.

Kindly ...

'Modi's supporters want to send us to Pakistan. How can we trust him?'

Image: Weaver Ateeq Ansari says Modi has not given a blueprint on how he will upgrade the weavers' industry in Benares.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal Savera R Someshwar/

Master weaver Ateeq Ansari manages 14 power looms in Varanasi.

A self-confessed evangelist for the both the bunkar (weaver) and Muslim communities, Ansari says he has had the "unfortunate" opportunity of meeting five prime ministers to plead the cause of Benaras's weavers. Each time, he says, he has returned disappointed.

You could call it compulsion, you could call it the city's mijhaaz (nature) or majboori (compulsion), but the two communities cannot work without each other. If, unfortunately, there is a communal riot, there is a faasla (distance) for a short time.

But that distance is soon reduced because isme rozi-roti judi hui hain (it's a question of our daily bread).

Yeh jo dhande ka socio-economic structure hain, this is what has prevented communalism from taking root in this city and strengthened the hands of harmony.

Modiji, in his first rally here, said he would turn Benaras into Surat. We could not understand what he was saying.

Surat has unknowingly become a problem for us. It imitates our products and sells it in the market at 40 per cent less cost.

We were paid for our creativity and our talent. Surat started aping us. Benaras is the creator and Surat is the follower. And Surat is making the profit.

So when Modiji sent out another message -- that he would upgrade the bunkar industry -- I was very happy and welcomed his initiative. At the same time, I am concerned because he has not given any blueprint about how this will be done.

In Surat, the owners have 1,000 to 2,000 looms under them. The government gives them financial aid to set up big plants.

Here, the weaver sells his wife's ornaments, takes a loan to scrape together enough money to buy a few looms.

How will Modiji install high technology looms in every weaver's home? How will he upgrade the system? Modiji has not shared his plans with us.

Let him tell us how it can be done. Else, he is selling daydreams.

But this is not the only reason why we are dead against Modi.

We cannot forget 2002. We cannot forget Modi's approach nor can we believe him.

Till date, Modi ke muh se ek aisa jumla nahi nikla ((Not a single sentence alluding to this has been uttered by Modi), so how can we trust him?

People who are his supporters sometimes want to send us to Pakistan and sometimes want to throw us into the Bay of Bengal. How can we trust Modi?

For the last two years, he has been carefully projected. Yet, his image is very clear, as far as the Muslims are concerned -- saffron, anti-Muslim, and communal. That image has not changed even today.

Yes, elections are fought on communal grounds. But this is a very different kind of an election.

Kindly ...

'When the Samajwadi Party got the opportunity, they gave us the gift of Muzaffarnagar'

Image: Security personnel detain two men for questioning during a curfew in Muzaffarnagar after the communal violence in September 2013.
Photographs: Reuters Savera R Someshwar/

Master weaver Ateeq Ansari on the Congress and the Samajwadi Party:

If parties like the Congress, BSP (the Bahujan Samaj Party) and SP (the Samajwadi Party) were Modi's rivals, then this may have become a communal election.

But the concept that the Aam Aadmi Party has brought to Varanasi, and the manner in which non-Muslims have supported this party has not allowed this election to turn reactionary.

One of the first steps that the AAP took was to make it clear that it was not interested in caste or religion-based politics. As a result, it has the support of both the Hindus and the Muslims.

There is nothing in that party (the AAP) that should not appeal to people and there are many instances why the other parties should not appeal to anyone.

Of the 66 years that India has been independent, the Congress has ruled for 50 years.

Chiyasat saal ke baad, usne hamara ultrasound aur blood test and X-ray karake report hamare saamne rakh di ki tumhare dono pephde sad gaye hain, liver bhi bol gaya hai aurkidney bhi jaa chuki hai aur anaemic bhi ho gaye ho. Lekin dava nahi batayi (After 66 years, it has done our ultrasound and blood test and x-ray and kept the report in front of us that both our lungs have failed, the liver and kidney have gone and you are anaemic as well. But they have not given the medicines).

They have placed the Sachar Committee report before us -- a one-line report that the lives of Muslims in India are even worse than that of the Dalits. Since the Congress has ruled for 50 of the 66 years, who is responsible for this?

From Meerut to Bhagalpur, Hashimpura to Muradabad, Aligarh to Bijnor... we cannot even begin to count the number of riots.

Take the Samajwadi Party. When they got the opportunity, they gave us the gift of Muzaffarnagar. In some ways, this has been one of the worst riots ever.

For the first time, people have had to live in camps for so long and here has been no provision for their rehabilitation. They have been threatened so that they don't go back to their land.

Kindly ...

'There is no daag on Kejriwal...90% of Muslims will go with AAP'

Image: Arvind Kejriwal, right, during a roadshow in Varanasi.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal Savera R Someshwar/

Master weaver Ateeq Ansari on the Aam Aadmi Party:

Kisko nahi humne bughta hain? (Whom have we not tolerated?)

Agar hum apne mazhab ke usoolon pe rahe hote, ek hadeez kafi hai (If we would stick to the principles of our religion, the Prophet's one saying is sufficient). Our Prophet says ek Momim ek bil mein do baar nahi dasa jaata. (If you put your finger in a hole and you are bitten and you repeat the act knowing the danger, you are not a good Muslim). We have been bitten umpteen times.

Earlier, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Congress and the Samajwadi Party. That was our compulsion; we had no choice.

Today, we have an option. It is looking saaf-sutra (clean) to us. Kejriwal is known across the world. There is no daag (blot) on him yet.

The only charge against him is that he left the government and ran. Chori karke nahin bhaga na? (Did he steal and run)?

All these other people, who are master thieves, who are facing many charges including corruption; he is not facing any such charges.

Kejriwal did not run the government, he resigned; this was a mistake. He is not accused of corruption, he is not accused of communalism, he is not charged with casteism, then why should we not trust him?

For the last 30 years at least, the voting criteria of Muslims has been the same -- we vote for the party which looks like it can defeat the BJP.

This kind of tactical voting is a negative approach. We should have the guts to believe that the person we vote for will win.

I believe 90 per cent of the Muslims will go with the Aam Aadmi Party.

The Muslims have been betrayed many times. Itne dohka khane ke baad akal to aati hain na! (After being cheated so many times, one develops some sense!)

Kindly ...

'Politicians dirty the peaceful atmosphere in Benaras'

Image: Maqbool Hasan Ansari, a weaver from Varanasi, was honoured with the National Award for his innovative jacquard shawl.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal Savera R Someshwar/

Maqbool Hasan Ansari comes from a family of weavers.

"My family has been in the handloom industry for more than 200 years. I have been working in this industry since 1966," he says proudly.

He is the recipient of the National Award for his innovative jacquard shawl, made of silk and wool. "There are seven National Awardees in our family," he says.

He is pained today by both the deterioration in Benaras's weaving industry and disappointed with the political system that has contributed to its sorry state.

The first thing you need to understand about Benaras's weaver community is that it is nurtured by both the Hindus and the Muslims. If the tana (warp) and bana (weft) don't work together, you cannot make cloth.

This is our background: The raw material suppliers here are mostly Hindus. There are more Muslim weavers than Hindu weavers. The dealers are mostly Hindus.

The bunkar (weaver community) represents Benaras's Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb. Hum log milke rehte hai, mil ke kaam karte hain, milk ek dusre ke reeti-riwaaz mein shaamil hote hain, ek dusre ke tyoharon mein aadan-pradhaan karte hain. (We live together, work together, and celebrate festivals and traditions together).

It is the politicians who try to divide people on communal lines. In the process, they vitiate the atmosphere. One of the biggest problems facing the country today is how to stop such people.

These people dirty the peaceful atmosphere of Benaras and it takes two to four months before things return to normal.

People meet each other, talk to each other, work with each other, but there is an underlying sense of discomfort. There is a slight restraint in their behaviour. Asar yeh rehta hai ki ek tanav, ek khichav sa banaye rehta hain. (Some sort of tension persists).

But then the Hindu and Muslims community leaders come together and resolve the issue immediately. If political people are involved in this matter, toh phir time lag jata hain. (If political people are involved, then it takes time).

Politicians are not interested in our problems. The ones who are targeting Muslims are saying Hindus are being polarised and those who are targeting Hindus say Muslims are being polarised. Is salike ka dusht prachar chalta rehta hain. (This is the negative way in which they campaign).

Kindly ...

'Muslims are afraid of Modi coming to power. But aren't other communities as well?'

Image: The weavers from Varanasi say they are struggling to survive.
Photographs: Sandeep Pal Savera R Someshwar/

Maqbool Hasan Ansari on the problems Benares's weavers face:

It is true that the Muslims are afraid of Modi coming to power. But would you say this is not true for other communities as well?

For someone who has to earn a living, it is most important that the atmosphere be peaceful. Otherwise, it is not just the Muslims who will suffer. Hindus will suffer as well.

If you look at the bunkar community, roz kaam karte hain aur roz khaate hai. Isko kahavat mein kaha jaata hai roz kuwa khodna aur roz paani peena. (The weaver community has to work every day to earn a living).

If the atmosphere is not peaceful, it will affect our work. We will not get the raw materials we need, we will not be able to sell our finished product.

The weaving industry in Benaras is struggling to survive.

At the moment, we have three Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs in Varanasi. But no one is interested in solving our problems. Whoever is elected, even as MP -- whether from the BJP or any other party -- disappears after the win. They don't make any contribution towards our rozi roti ka kaam (earnings).

The biggest threat we are facing is from of Surat. The designs that we make in silk, they make on polyester and nylon. Our saris sell for Rs 5,500 to Rs 6,000, they sell saris for Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.

Our art cannot survive without support.

Sixty per cent of our handloom work has shut down. Many weavers have left Benaras for Surat in search of a living. Our weavers don't go to Surat because they get more money or better quality of work.

When they go to Surat, they take up jobs like that of folding saris made in the mills. They get paid 25 paise per sari.

The people, who are considered skilled labour here, are engaged in unskilled work in Surat. Even here, the skilled labour works under MNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act) because he gets paid more.

In order to survive, we have innovated. The end use for the material has changed -- home furnishing, wedding decor. The problem here is silk se hatkar yeh kaam ho raha hai. We are moving from natural fibres to man-made fibres.

That hurts the weaver. The world knows us for our expertise with silk. But our brand has been damaged because places like Surat create similar looking products that are cheaper and not of the same quality.

As far as these elections are concerned, we are only interested in those who are willing to protect and nurture our industry. We are fed up of verbal promises.

Now, you have to work hard to convince us that you have the interest of the bunkar community at heart.

As told to Savera R Someshwar/