Life's Rich Tapestry - The Varanasi Weavers.


Varanasi is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, and has been a cultural centre in India for thousands of years. Up until about a decade ago, the city had over 100,000 looms. Now there are just 35,000.

The once-thriving weaving community have produced beautiful, painstakingly made fabric for generations – even here in the UK, you can see examples of their work in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. But the age-old tradition of passing down skills from family to family is threatened by cheap imports, mechanization, and lack of marketing skills, allowing these handcrafted sarees to be undercut by inferior, mass produced items.

Poverty is rife, meaning that young people leave their homes to look for work in bigger cities, and families were torn apart. Weavers face huge debts, forced to borrow capital to buy threads from loan sharks. Some were even driven to take their own lives.

But by bringing weavers together to form societies, Traidcraft Exchange is bringing new hope to families in the region. Working together gives weavers like Nadir more power – to negotiate better prices, buy threads in bulk, and access the capital and training they need to invest in brighter futures.

“It is good to have a society of weavers - we are able to go and discuss with other members, talk about our work, find new work, there are about 65 members now; I am among the first few members.

If we have to take on a large order, then we can come together to do it. When there are more people we will also get to hear everyone’s views and then there might be new ideas that we haven’t thought of. We can represent some of our problems to the government; we can help other people access schemes, now we can help all weavers get their artisan cards.”  

Artisan cards are particularly important to Nadir and his fellow weavers– allowing them to access healthcare for their families, and discounted prices for their materials. Thanks to the better profit they can make, the weavers can invest in a brighter future for their families:

“We want the children to study; they will then be able to do the weaving as well as have some basic understanding of accounts – they can keep track of how much material they bring home, how much is remaining etc. earlier all this used to happen on honesty, now it happens on the basis of education; if we could read then we would be able to understand exactly what he is saying.”

This Christmas, you can help more families like Nadir's to build a better future together. 

J McNaughtonComment