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Berhampur’s moniker of Silk City at risk with decline in skilled weavers

YarnsandFibers News Bureau 2016-08-21 11:00:00 – Berhampur

Silk city Berhampur famous for its silk saris in Orissa sees a discernible chill in the air as it has lost much of its sheen over the years. It was here in Berhampur that the handloom industry in the state took roots decades back. The city, once home to hundreds of weavers, is now witnessing a steady decline of the craft. The age-old handloom industry in the city was one of the largest economic activity after agriculture that provided direct and indirect employment to lakhs of weavers and allied workers.

The hand-weaving exemplified the richness and diversity of Orissa. Thus, the city gained its moniker of Silk City, said Berhampur Weavers’ Cooperative Society president K Bhima Raju.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier this month declared August 7 as the National Handloom Day in honour of the Swadeshi Movement that was launched on this day back in 1905. The day was celebrated with much pomp back in the state and a state-level function was held in the capital to provide an impetus to the handloom sector and also to promote handlooms as a world-class product.

On the first National Handloom Day, CM Naveen Patnaik launched the ‘Baristha Bunakar Sahayata Yojana’ – a pension scheme for the weaver community in the state. Through the scheme, the government would provide Rs.500 per month to weavers who attained 60 years of age and Rs.700 to weavers who have crossed 80 years of age.

According to locals, many migrants from Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh came to Berhampur in search of work. Being skilled artisans, they wove silk sarees which they sold for a living. The sarees soon became a rage, and became so popular that they were shipped to places across the country.

In no time, the trend of silk sarees picked up and became a major source of economy for the state. The silk saree helped Orissa gain a place on the handloom world map, with the hand-woven silk sarees being appreciated all over.

Keeping in mind the demand, the government set up three cooperative societies in the town. The market value of the sarees was fixed via the cooperative societies. More than 400 families were involved in the craft till 15 years ago.

However, the craft soon faded due to various reasons. Lack of various policy initiatives, marketing and social welfare measures posed a threat to the handloom sector. The policy to promote handloom sector through a number of programmes and schemes also failed to reach the society.

Soon, from the earlier 400 weavers’ families, there are now just 99. More than 300 families have opted out of the craft in the past few years.

According to the weavers, it takes five to seven days for two persons to weave a saree. The saree is then sold in the market for prices ranging from Rs.3,500-Rs.6,000. However, the weavers only receive Rs.1,800-Rs.2,200. This means the weavers hardly earned Rs.200 a day even after working for 10-12 hours a day. Low wages was one of the main reasons for weavers to opt for other crafts and occupation for their means of living.

Now, sarees woven by machines are available for low prices which has affected the market for hand-woven sarees moreover the market policy of the cooperative societies is too outdated to persist with. If this continues, Berhampur’s Silk city tag can be in menace.

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