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Vanarasi or Banarasi is not
only own for its place on
the holy map of Hindus but
also as the cusp of
handlooms producing
exquisite banarasi sarees
and fabrics.

The Muslim craftsmen who built their abode in Varanasi still have their present generations residing in the same place carrying forward the art of intricate saree weaving!

As the banarasi weavers battle with the fakes from Gujarat, many of the trained weavers have chosen to shift their base to Gujarat in search of an alternative source of livelihood. Job prospects are shrinking in Varanasi and for many of them, it's better to work in the 'fake' industry than die a slow death.

Tucked away from the nerve centre of Varanasi is Adampur. The dingy lanes, where the sunlight struggles to find its way in, leads the visitor to the inside of the weaver's community. The noise of the shifting wooden frames of the handloom units creates a noise in unison, as if in a rehearsed beat. Inside the hutments and some pucca houses, are the weavers engrossed in work, carving out intricate designs on smooth silk.
A group of women in Shantiniketan pioneered the revival of Batik and Kantha embroidery work in the 1950s. They were inspired by a very individualistic past time of women in rural Bengal.

Instead of throwing away old saris and dhotis, layered and sewed them into colourful coverlets for personal use. It has become a popular embroidery form and has now been adapted for decorating and embellishing textiles, sarees and household items.

The artisans are mostly women. Kantha saris are embroidered under the guidance of contractors. The women who used to embroider wrappers or shawls and bed coverlets for household use have been trained to embroider the sarees with intricate designs on the borders and pallus. The raw materials and the designs are provided by the contractors. All these enterprises are labour intensive and very little money is paid as wages.
The Chikan embroidery mainly developed as typical 'shadow work' embroidery on transparent muslin. It is centered mainly in the northern heartland of india, namely Lucknow, the capital of a large state, called Uttar Pradesh.

It has survived the loss of royal patronage, suffered deeply at the hands of commercialization, lost its way sometimes in mediocrity and yet stayed alive, is a tribute to the skill and will of the crafts persons who have handed down this technique from one generation to another.

Many female artisans or karigars, with numbers running as high as 1.5 lakhs in UP, are engaged in this intricate art form. These women sit on the ground and work the whole day, embroidering tablecloths, bedsheets, bedspreads and the like for a wage as low as Rs.30 a day. There is a niche market for these items all over India, run by a network of agents who place orders with the owners of the chikan units. Here too, keen competition from machine made products is killing the cottage industry and again the need is a change of design and the look of the finished product. But the traditional embroiders are a contented lot, quite happy doing what they have done for years. They continue to work in dire conditions despite the long hours and meager pay.
The Jaipur district of Rajasthan, India is famous for Gota Patti work which is basically an appliqué work done for embellishment of fabrics.

The work is carried out by artisans as household activity or within groups in guidance of senior craftmen. Generally a piece rate system is used which depends on design patterns and time required in each appliqué garments. The learning of skill is survived within families. Tradesmen control this craft, while artisans are mainly paid on job work basis. The financial condition of these artisans is not sound. There is intense competition among producers due to low margin. From 2007 onward, the intervention of self help groups that organised training camps for skilled up gradation and design development resulted in improvement of financial conditions in this cluster. In 2005, it was recognised as state government cluster.

These craftsmen face many harrowing problems - Low wages ranging from Rs. 200 per day for 10 to 12 hours of work. Work is seasonal, have variations in demand according to season. Zardozi work has lower demand due to high prices. Design Limitations. The artisans are producing dresses with obsolete designs and no link to seasonal forecasts. Lack of investment to set up their own business. Health problems in the form of weak eyesight due to prolonged working hours and increasing age. Weak eyesight limits the work tenure of artisans up to 35 years only.
 
Karigars Problem
 

Most karigars blame the powerloom and the influx of cheap imported Chinese yarn for the community's economic woes :
from falling wages to shrinking work hours.

Maqbool Hasan (32) "Has been a weaver since childhood. He learnt his skills from his father and their entire family is dependant on his income from weaving. He earns Rs. 100 every day and finishes a saree within seven days on an average. This Rs. 700, till the next order arrives, is too meager to maintain his family and take care of other expenses. Maqbool wants to shift to another profession but he is not trained to do anything else."
Nizamuddin (45) Another weaver, stood in front of his handloom set and said: "We have left everything to destiny. Our future is dark. Many of our brethren have started new careers in different fields. The children are not interested in getting trained looking at our condition."
Md Yasin (68) A veteran in the trade, recalls the horror of several families struggling to stay alive. "Many have become rickshaw pullers and we are gradually losing our skilled artists. The art is dying," he laments."
 
Kasturi-B's Initiative
 

As a unique initiative, Kasturi-b has started the "Karigar" section which highlights the plight of the hundreds of crafts person engaged in various crafts all across India.
Chikan is a major manufacturing industry in the Lucknow, (UP). Chikan is made in stages. Male workers dominate all the stages but the embroidery itself is majorly done by female embroiderers. Women's status in the labour market is significantly inferior to men. They get lower pay, less security and work in poor working conditions.
Traders and middlemen compel artisans to sell their products at throwaway prices. These products are then sold in global craft bazaars at high cost. Artisans are forced to sell crafts on weight basis later to be sold piece by piece for huge profits. Now production has increased due to global demand but benefit does not percolate to the majority of the artisans.
Little has changed for these "karigars" over the years. Female artisans involved in chikankari are still uneducated, grossly underpaid and horribly exploited. They usually work in poor light conditions, sitting hunched over to produce piece after piece of this marvelous art. And yet each day of hard work earns them only a pittance, because the "agents" who bring them the business pocket the lavish commissions.

Kasturi-b chikankari centers are painstakingly bypassing these agents and directly bringing employment to these women artisans. By cutting out the middle-men and improving the overall working conditions, we are trying to enhance the lifestyle of these master embroiders.

Most pieces of chikankari that you witness on our website are a direct product of our chikankari centers. We are trying to revive this dying art by re-introducing the intricate stitches which most business consider too expensive to place on their products. While trying to teach the general customer about the exquisite beauty of these rare stitches, we are trying our utmost best to provide the artisans involved in this work with the best possible wages and working conditions.