Floods became ‘excuse for exploitation’ of carpet weavers

Floods became ‘excuse for exploitation’ of carpet weavers

BANDIPORA: In Hajin area of this north Kashmir district, the last year’s floods have resulted in decrease in the wages paid to the carpet weavers.
Citing drop in export of carpets and the damages caused by the floods, the middlemen (the traders who get the carpets woven for exporters) have reduced the wages paid to the carpet weavers in the township, which is credited for preserving the craft in Kashmir.
Abdul Rashid Dar, 33, of Sayeed Mohalla Hajin has been in the profession since childhood. Now, he is on the verge of giving it up, for the slashed rates threaten to starve him.
“It was a great miracle that we survived the floods last year. But now its aftereffects are threatening to kill us, because the middlemen pay us Rs 500 less per square feet for weaving a carpet,” Dar told Kashmir Reader.
Dar’s mate, Ghulam Mohiuddin, said the carpet weavers have been facing “the worst kind of exploitation” post floods.
The middlemen, he said, have been using the floods as “an excuse to cheat” the weavers.
“They tell us the rates have been slashed because the trade has gone down. They tell us there are no buyers for our woven carpets in Srinagar or outside the state,” he said.
The carpet exports according to the state’s Handicraft Department touched Rs 492.18 crore during the last fiscal.
Prior to the floods last year, a weaver, according to Mohiuddin, was being paid Rs 2,300 per square foot of the carpet. But this year, he said, the rate is only Rs 1,800 per square foot.
“The scenario is same in the neighbouring Shahgund village. There too, the weavers are compelled to work on lesser wages or give up the craft,” he said.
For Ghulam Nabi Parray, the craft has become “a vicious trap” for weavers who “work under a system of debt bondage”.
“The weavers are always in debt, and now their debts will only increase. This new exploitative practice would fetch the middlemen and traders same service at a lower price,” Parray said.
According to the weavers, the middlemen are usually the people who can invest in the raw material used in making carpets.
Muhammad Subhan, who is not a weaver anymore, told Kashmir Reader that the nature of the middlemen changed during the ‘90s decade of insurgency—the period in which Hajin became known more for the association of its men with the dreaded counterinsurgency force.
“Most of the weavers are engaged by former associates of the renegades. They amassed huge wealth by looting the willow nurseries in the area, and now they have become middlemen or exporters of carpets,” the weavers said.
“They still suck the blood of poor weavers,” they added.
They also blamed the exporters for letting the middlemen fix the rates for weaving carpets.

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