When we talk of our commitment to revival of dying or languishing hand looms and handicrafts, we believe that change is happening, right now, right here and that it can only go up. Our confidence is based on many instances of craft revivals across the country; far reaching changes brought about by the collective efforts and initiatives of different agencies like AIACA. One such story is that of an ancient hand loom weaving cluster in District Azamgarh, UP – Mubarakpur.
Mubarakpur, known for its fine silk weaving since the 14th century highlights an opulent satin weave with kadhua zari motifs. The city found prominent mention in the travel diaries of the famous medieval traveller Ibn Batuta, who praised the high quality fabrics being made here. However, over the centuries, the growth of these beautiful weaves was overshadowed by the Benarasi saree, made just a distance away in Benaras, by middlemen who made no differentiation between the two weaves. Slowly, the distinctly different Mubarakpur weave became synonymous with the Benarsi saree leading to a decline in the fame of Mubarakpur.
Despite not having been able to build their own brand identity, Mubarakpur was still a thriving center of saree weaving and weavers had enough work to keep them afloat. You might then ask, what happened that put Mubarakpur at the precipice of extinction? So much so that it needed to be revived? The tale of Mubarakpur is a heart-rendering story of senseless mess, lost memory of unrecorded designs, a heritage now unidentifiable and jostling for space in the face of social exploitation. All of these elements amplified after the Hindu-Muslim riots in the early 90’s, when Mubarakpur lost all footing as an ancient weaving hub as most of their traditional clientèle shied away and they soon found themselves without any work at all.
It did not help when middlemen from Benaras came with low grade polyester and raw materials to these weavers, making the most of their sorry situation. The weavers had no choice but to accept loans and the poor quality yarns from these middlemen in order to weave fabric that took long hours and efforts but could not be sold for even a decent amount of money. A lot of social institutions tried to help but couldn’t resolve their economic situation effectively. In 2014 AIACA intervened and that is the turning point in the story.
The All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA), supported by a private philanthropic trust & Burhani Mubarakpur SHG helped revive the forgotten and lost skills of this famous weaving centre under the brand name ‘Mubarakpur Weaves’. With the main objective to create a weaver’s collective so that greater economic value of the end product can be transferred back to the individual weaver, it voices the success story of the various formed SHGs. Jaypore is reinforcing this endeavor of AIACA by getting the Mubarakpur hub a step closer towards gaining fair market access and recognition for this distinctive weave.
With AIACA’s immense help Mubarakpur’s artisans were able to turn their situation around and two of the most prominent examples are the life-changing experiences of Fida Hussain & Rajab Ali. With daily incomes for 8-10 hours of work a day, Zoab Fida Hussein was earning just about Rs. 100-200 and considered shifting to the power loom. He had to give up the idea considering the poor working conditions of the power loom work sheds and his age, but the other weaver, Rajab Ali shifted to power looms due to his inability to find work as a hand loom weaver and faced deplorable work conditions like poor light and ventilation and unreasonable wage deductions.
With the formation of the SHG under AIACA’s project, both of them are able to earn between Rs 250-300 a day working on the hand loom and take active interest in the production and marketing activities of the SHG. Another shining example of this initiative’s accomplishment is expressed by Mustafa Murtaza, a young weaver from Mubarakpur who with AIACA’s aid attended The Hand loom School in Maheshwar and came back with an understanding of the global perspective on the Indian hand loom industry, modern marketing tools & contemporary designs. He presently co-ordinates the activities of the SHG in Mubarakpur and wants to widen the market reach of their products. The most significant change the project has brought he says is that now his community feels “Ki iss kaam mein bhi izzat hai.” (There is respect in hand loom weaving also.)
For a weaving technique, that many people thought was doomed to disappear, AIACA’s initiative has helped it survive in an efficient way. The results are evident with an increase in average household income and distribution of dividends amongst these weavers. Now, the weavers are adept at weaving intricate motifs and borders on pure silk and silk cotton, keeping a record of their past designs that will be passed down to generations. They continue to practice the ‘kadhua’ technique of hand weaving where each motif is individually woven into the fabric and ‘meena’ work where a single buta can have as many as 3 colors.
As the challenge to revive this hand loom weaving cluster in a way that resonates with customers continues, what does this mean for the relationship between the traders and the weavers? Giving back to society is a powerful notion but it’s not the only job for AIACA. The association is also nurturing and preparing the weavers to take charge of their own destiny. Facilitation of direct linkages with yarn suppliers, textile experts at the back-end and wholesalers and buyers like Jaypore at the front end to ensure long-term sustainability of this initiative has started to revolutionize the way hand loom is characterized in India.
Jaypore supports AIACA in its initiative to revive these age-old weaving traditions and uplifting the economic conditions of the Mubarakpur weavers by selling their products at a fair price. Paralelly, amplifying their voice and working together towards a common goal of building ‘Mubarakpur Weaves’ as a brand.
As an online brand dedicated to creating a unique interpretation of age-old hand loom crafts, we travel across India curating unique and exclusive collections that represent the country’s finest craft-based designs. We present collections online by partnering with artisanal communities, textile designers, and independent artists to showcase a new contemporary design language that comes from India and is understood globally.
-Content & Images via AIACA.