SUALKUCHI, Jan 6 � The weavers as well as the small handloom entrepreneurs here have been waging a relentless struggle through-out 2013, as they are fighting against some unscrupulous traders who are endangering the glorious handloom industry of Assam by importing huge quantities of paat fabrics by copying the designs and motifs of Sualkuchi paat fabrics.
To resist the flow of such products from outside the State, the people of the silk village organised massive protest and burnt a large number of silk fabrics that were imported by these unscrupulous traders on March 29 and 30 last. On March 29, the police fired in the air at High School Road here and on the following day the police resorted to lathicharge, besides firing at the crowd. While three persons were injured, the district administration imposed curfew at greater Sualkuchi and the Army subsequently staged a flag march.
The historic protest to safeguard the cultural heritage of the silk village provided the much-needed impetus to launch agitational programmes at different places of Assam. The people of Sualkuchi hoped that the Government would respond positively to the national sentiment and would be sympathetic and therefore consider early redressal of the demands of the agitating handloom entrepreneurs.
The people of Sualkuchi who are busy in weaving round the clock, hardly have time to spare to take part in any agitational programme. But on witnessing imported silk fabrics flooding the markets in Assam, the villagers came out on the streets and registered their historic protest.
After nine months since the unrest took place, the concerned people are yet to observe any progress in the handloom sector, though on the contrary the problems of the handloom entrepreneurs have multiplied since the last several years. Price rise in mulberry silk yarns and tasar silk are 10 times higher than the price of the same yarns when compared to rates that were prevalent in April. Mulberry silk yarns used as warp and which was sold at Rs 2,500 per kilogram in April is now sold at Rs 3,900 per kilogram. Likewise, mulberry silk yarn used as weft and which was sold at Rs 2,300 per kilogram is now sold at Rs 3,500 per kilogram, while coloured silk yarns which was earlier sold at Rs 3,000 per kilogram is now sold at Rs 5,000 per kilogram as on December last.
Again, tasar silk yarns sold at Rs 4,300 per kilogram in October last is now sold at Rs 4,500 per kilogram. Moreover, price of the other raw materials and other assessories of the handlooms have also gone up. On the other hand, the weavers and the entrepreneurs are suffering from distress sale of their products. The price hike of raw materials and the distress sale of the finished products have together adversely affected the trade and led to closure of small handloom units in the silk village.
The objective of the Sualkuchi outburst was to stop the selling of imported silk fabrics, to provide 50 per cent subsidy in mulberry yarns to the weavers, to set up yarn bank at Sualkuchi, to supply yarn to the weavers at subsidised rates to form a cluster of handlooms comprising greater Sualkuchi, to set up a weavers� training institute to cater to quality control, to frame guidelines on handloom products so as to help the weavers and master weavers save themselves from the clutches of the middlemen, provide PDS facilities to the hired weavers coming from different districts, provide subsidised electricity to the weavers etc.
Moreover, the demand for trademark and geographical identity for Sualkuchi paat fabrics was another important demand of the people. Immediately after the incident, the officials of the State Handloom and Textiles Department, National Handloom Development Cooperation, Central Silk Board and the officials of the Board of GI Mark for the first time met the weavers of the village on April 10, 2013 at Sankardev Dham and assured them to take necessary steps in order to fulfil their legitimate demands.
The National Handloom Development Cooperation officials assured the weavers to conduct an enquiry into the allegations levelled against the agencies authorised for selling mulberry yarn at subsidised rate. The weavers of the village expressed serious concern over the callous attitude of the concerned officials who have done nothing for the interest of the weavers.
On the other hand, the weavers who got 10 per cent subsidised mulberry yarn through the aforementioned agencies, have ceased further supply by NHDC since April last year. The NHDC did not conduct any enquiry against the Sualkuchi Institute of Fashion Technology, which distributed subsidised mulberry yarn to the weavers free of cost before the Assembly election of 2011.
Despite the green signal received from the Secretary, Food and Civil Supply and the Deputy Commissioner of Kamrup for covering the weavers coming from different places under the public distribution system (PDS), the weavers are still deprived from availing the facility.
The Tant Silpa Unnayan Samiti formed in June last year submitted 3,000 application forms at the DC�s office for entitling the PDS benefits, but the fate of the weavers is still hanging in the air. Besides the demand for 50 per cent, subsidy to the weavers and master weavers or small entrepreneurs is gathering dust in the files.
The other demands, including power supply at subsidised rate, establishing yarn bank for enabling supply at subsidised rate, setting up of weavers� service centre at Sualkuchi, opening of cloth bank to provide relief against distress sale of the finished products took 9 months to go through all the red tape involved in getting the government�s nod.
However, the State Government has imposed entry tax on the raw materials, including silk yarn imported from other states and if the entry taxes are enforced, then the weavers have to expend 2 per cent additional price while purchasing those materials.