Wandering through the lanes of the ancient city of Varanasi, the traveller is subsumed in the lanes brimming with culture and tradition. A sentinel of history, Kashi is an offering of holy transcendence that touches the seeker and seer in equal measure with its sacred spring of spirituality.
The City of Lights as Kashi is known as, is a rich melting pot of culture, cuisine and historical legacy. Varanasi is renowned for its sinuous muslin, subtle silk, ephemeral perfumes, intricate ivory work and opulent sculptures. For several centuries Kashi has enjoyed the status of being a vital industrial center for traditional arts and crafts in India. The lanes of Kashi, were once filled with a thousand handlooms, the sounds of artists beating, moulding, coloring, and weaving nature’s gifts into a lullaby of textile for the locals and tourists alike.
Owing to the severe decline of local cottage industries, in recent years, the array of handlooms that once spun around the clock are all but defunct. Traditionally, a month-long labour is invested into the weaving of a saree on a handloom, however, a power loom can do that in less than a day. Cheap imitations and foreign substitutes have heralded the despair of the delicate handloom industry. Middleman and markets forces, drive the price of a saree from a loom, up to manifolds by the time it reaches customers. 85% of the weavers have given up their unique skill sets to pursue more sustainable but exploitative livelihood opportunities as day laborers. The daily wages of a skilled weaver who operates the loom, working for hours at an end, organizing every microscopic detail are a measly rupees 150, compared to anywhere between 800-1000, from earlier eras.
“Swacch-Shikshit-Kushal Kashi” was started with the aim of reviving the dying hand-loom industry of Banaras and has evolved with multi-pronged holistic interventions in the fields of education, health, sanitation & agriculture. The weaver community is trained with latest developments in their field through workshops conducted by Sewa International from time to time, their products branded and sold in exhibitions, their kids educated, and their locality made Open Defecation Free (ODF) through sponsored individual/community toilets. Farmers are given periodic trainings to improve their agricultural skills. Their children are provided education in various educational centers managed by Sewa International. Our recent interventions have been in developing rugs in Chunar area which have been developed by weavers and now, the women folk too. The change is visible, positive and long-lasting.