Al Amin, a jamdani weaver is worried for the future of his business but that is the least of his worries at the moment. He is looking for help for the next meal
Al Amin is a jamdani saree weaver, the traditional fine muslin textile of Bengal produced for centuries that had made the Mughal province of Bangalah a familiar name in the aristocratic circles in the world.
He weaves his sarees in the Jamdani Palli in Rupganj of Narayanganj, the country's biggest Jamdani production and marketing hub. Not a big shot in the business, he only has Tk8 lakh in capital and 10 pit looms in his small factory.
He buys yarns, weaves the sarees and crafts designs based on the orders he gets from Aarong and other fashion houses.
His family along with those of his 20 craftsmen live on the sales of the sarees amounting to Tk8-Tk10 lakh each month.
He has been practicing the craft of his forefathers. But neither he nor his weavers have any savings.
For the last few weeks, Al Amin has been paying his workers even though the looms are silent because of the countrywide shutdown enforced to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Thus, he ran out of his working capital in a month.
He worries whether he would be able to buy yarns and fabrics and continue his business in the future but that is the least of his worries at the moment.
The artist and weaver is looking for help from his clients for the next meal.
Al Amin is not alone.
More than 1,500 artisans in Rupganj and Sonargaon engaged in Jamdani weaving have plunged into a crisis they have never met before due to the coronavirus outbreak.
They are now using up their working capitals just to live these days.
Al Amin told The Business Standard, "A big part of my capital has been spent to pay wages to my workers. We have not got any government assistance yet."
"I am now living on loans. I do not know how I'll restart my business when the crisis is over."
Jamdani weavers at Rupshi, Bechakur, Khadun Moikuli, Morgakul, Pabankul, Barabo and Kazipara in Rupganj, and Baradi and Borgaon usually are very busy. But now they are just sitting idle.
"We have got government food relief twice after our factories were shut down since March 25. Each time, I got 5 kg of rice, 2 kg of potatoes and one litre of soybean oil, just enough for one day for my family," said artisan Nizam Uddin at Kazipara.
"I do not know what will happen in the future," he added.
Agreeing that the relief was not enough, Hamidullah Khan, a councillor of a ward nearby Kazipara of Tarabo municipality said, "There are 5,000 families in my ward who are in need. But whatever I get covers only 60-65 families a day. I am trying to do my best."
500 batik entrepreneurs spend their capitals just to live a day
The biggest production hub of batik fabrics is located at Banti village in Araihazar upazila of Narayanganj. Some 12-15 thousand workers work in batik production in more than 500 factories.
But now all the factories have stopped, so have their lives.
The batik artisans now worry for their families in the coming days as they have missed a huge sales season like the Pahela Baishakh. If the situation does not improve soon, they are going to miss another season of the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr as well.
Batik clothes weavers are now passing days in hardship after spending their capital to run their families.
Batik businessman Mazharul Islam said he has fallen into a deep crisis for the first time in his 16 years of business. He had managed to build a capital of Tk50 lakh over the years with hard work. But his capital has almost run out.
He had to spend Tk10 lakh in wages for his workers at the factory. Besides, a large portion of it has been spent on factory and shop rents, and family expenses.
"Our main sales depend on Pahela Baishakh and Eid-ul-Fitr. The clothes we produced for Pahela Baishakh remain unsold."
We cannot sell these dresses at any other time as these are special designs for this festival," said another weaver Chand Sarkar.
Around 15,000 artisans in the villages are now unable to get their daily meals, he said, adding that most of them even cannot afford the government's subsidised food.
So far, he could get three packets of food relief, Chand said.
The biggest batik village is situated in Duptara union under the upazila.
"We are running the subsidised food programme for poor people through open market sales. But it is not sufficient for a large number of people," said Shahida Musharraf, chairman at the union.
7 lakh tant weavers face uncertainty
Most of the country's handloom clothes are produced in Pabna and Sirajganj districts.
Around 4.5 lakh weavers work in both power looms and handlooms in Enayetpur, Belkuchi, Shahjadpur, Ullapara, Kamarkhand, Kazipur and Sadar upazilas of Sirajganj district.
On the other hand, there are 3.5 lakh workers in the weaving industry in Kalihati, Basil, Nagpur upazilas of Pabna.
Around three lakh entrepreneurs of the two districts who started their businesses with Tk10,000-Tk10 lakh are now unable to afford any food as their factories remain shut.
They had to live with borrowed money for a few days. But now they cannot go on any longer.
"I usually sell sarees worth Tk2-Tk5 lakh 15 days before the beginning of Ramadan. This year, I sold nothing. I had to use up my capital to survive. I had to pay my permanent workers from that," said Syed Mia, a weaver at Tamai village of Belkuchi upazila.
Weaver Anisur Rahman at Porjona village in Shahjadpur said, "I and my four children work at the loom. But now we find it tough to survive. I have got food relief only two times."
Another artisan Anis of Del Duar at Tangail said, "We cannot go out during this pandemic and we have no work. Now I cannot run my family. If the coronavirus crisis does not end soon, we will have to die of starvation."
Confirming the suffering of the tant weavers, the Sirajganj district administration said they did not have enough food relief to distribute among the weavers.
Deputy Commissioner Dr Mohammad Faruque said, "We have not received the relief under the special package declared by the government yet. We are now helping the poor from Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) programmes and open market sales of essentials."
"We cannot support a family more than twice in a week. We just don't have enough," he added.