Weavers of Emmigannur
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The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
The Emmigannur Weavers’ Cooperative Society goea back a long way: it was started in 1938 by Machani Somappa, himself a weaver, and later (in 1940) one of the founders of the MGB Group, later known mainly for their surface cargo transport business. The declining conditions of the cooperative society are paralleled with the arrival of newer and newer kinds of debt, new kinds of jobs, and an entirely new economy. The sheer number of cards, loan documents, and ‘scheme books’ pose new challenges to the sustainability of traditional skills.
Male Speaker: If we have problems of any kind, with money, the co-operative helps us.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a co operative society bank?
Male Speaker 2: There's the town bank.
INTERVIEWER: Is it connected to the society?
Male Speaker 1: It was established by Somappagaru. Also the government provides us with loans and assistance. They'd access the looms and the damages and take care of it accordingly.
But the last time they messed up everything and switched the amounts. No body got the right remuneration.
INTERVIEWER: Apart from the cooperative society, if you are in urgent need of money, then how do you manage?
Male Speaker 2: we have to manage.
INTERVIEWER: Do you go to local money lenders? Is there no microfinance here?
Speakers: There was microfinance but not anymore.
INTERVIEWER: Have you borrowed through microfinance?
Speaker: Yes, a lot of us have borrowed but they've stopped because of the recent tension with the suicides. The ones who want to and can continue repaying are doing so but because of some people who aren't repaying the microfinance companies are also pulling out.
INTERVIEWER: How long did it run for?
Speaker: It ran quite well, for 2-3 years. It was only because of the problems in the other areas that it had to stop.
INTERVIEWER: Which areas?
Speaker 2: Where the controversies happened.
INTERVIEWER: Did it happen in other zillas?
Speaker 1: Yes, the other zillas are where the actual problems started and here also many were unable to pay the loans back. Because we didn't have proper access to raw material, it became hard to make ends meet besides repaying loans. We explained our situation and even wrote a letter of request. But they insisted that we pay on time...
INTERVIEWER: Let’s talk about you as an individual. At one point you had access to micro finance loans, but not anymore; Co operative societies were supporting you but not anymore; do you get bank loans?
Speaker: Yes sir, we have access to bank loans. We've been transacting with the town bank from the time of Somappagaru.
INTERVIEWER: You have the bank loan. what specifically is the problem now?
Speaker: The bank provides the loan, but once it comes to the society the distribution to the weavers doesn't happen properly. The amount that's supposed to reach us, didn't. The directors and the elders told us that the money hasn't come. The government had sent us cheques. I had showed the amount of damage on my looms and the saris, for which I applied for the money. Only some people got the money.
INTERVIEWER: You’re saying that the co operative society isn't functioning properly. I'm asking...
Speaker 2: I have applied for a loan also. A gentleman came to us and said he'd get us a loan. Nothing has happened yet.
INTERVIEWER: How long has it been since you applied?
Speaker 2: Two months.
INTERVIEWER: For what did you need the loan?
Speaker 2: For material, so I could have my own loom.
INTERVIEWER: If there is a wedding or somebody's ill and you need money, then what do you do?
Speaker 1: It happens very often but we have to borrow and carry on. Earlier people from other villages settled here because of how prosperous we were. But now, many have moved out. The co operative has been very successful in the past and we had prospered on it.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about now, if there's an emergency and you need money, what do you do?
Speaker: We'd borrow from friends or relatives...
INTERVIEWER: Are there any pawn shops around here?
Speaker 2: No, there aren't any here. There are some in Kurnool.
INTERVIEWER: How much interest do you pay if you were to borrow from elsewhere?
Speaker1: About 3 or 4 rupees.
Speaker2: If we know them well, then 2 rupees.
INTERVIEWER: Where do the immigrant workers from here go? To which places do they move?
Speaker 1: A lot of people from here have gone to Bangalore.
INTERVIEWER: Do you speak Kannada?
INTERVIEWER: Is your mother tongue Kannada? Is that why most of you go to Bangalore?
Speaker 1: Yes. People have also gone to Bombay, Solapur, Bhiwandi in Maharashtra, because there are looms there.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of work do they find there?
Speaker1 & 2: Construction, watchmen, attenders et cetera.
INTERVIEWER: Not for skilled craft work?
Speaker: No sir. People have moved to Rajawada as well. Although there are fewer looms, their wages are much higher.
INTERVIEWER: Which district is it?
Speaker 1: Mamulnagar. We've been there and seen how things work. Our wages are lower then their's.
INTERVIEWER: Do the Padmashali (sect) people in Yemmaganur speak Kannada?
Speaker1: Padmashalis, Kurunis...
INTERVIEWER: What are Kurunis?
INTERVIEWER: Aren’t Padmashalis weavers also?
Speakers: No sir, Padmashalis is a different caste. We are Kurunis, coming under the backward caste section.
Here all castes, including Muslims weave on the loom. People of scheduled castes also are weavers here. People have come from various places to settle here as weavers. But because of the recent problems, and the society has sold off some of the material, and other difficulties people have been leaving.
INTERVIEWER: Do people go to Bombay?
Speaker: There was an acquaintance of ours who worked at the society as a clerk. He resigned and left to find work in Bangalore to be able to build his house. He worked as a carpenter there and in two years cleared all his debts and has now built two houses here.
We've been working here for twenty years, and even the money that we're entitled to from the government hasn't been reaching us. The middlemen at the society divert them according to their necessities. Several people have come like this and we've told everyone.
INTERVIEWER: We are not from the government; we're just here to do a study. Did you get your Adhaar card? Do you know about it?
Speaker: No, it hasn't come yet. There were about 5800 looms in this area once upon a time. Specific to designs. But now we don't even have 200. The management isn't working and there are so many issues with wages being a pittance, so they leave and the older people are left to work on the looms now. Come I'll show you...
Speaker: He's weaving a bed sheet. It gets done in a month and we have to wait for 2-3 months for the thread to reach us.
INTERVIEWER: This belongs to the co op?
Speaker: The material is all theirs we only work on them. How much do you get paid for one bed sheet?
Speaker: Look sir, one rug pays 55 rupees.
INTERVIEWER: How much time does it take you to weave one sheet?
Weaver: I'm old now and take my time. About 2 in a day, not more. If there're stronger people then maybe 3 or more. I just don’t want to be idle, so i do a bit of work. At most maybe 1 and a half, but it's a lot of strain.
INTERVIEWER: Does anyone else in your family weave apart from you?
Weaver: Everyone does. My wife, sons... but everyone has had to find other work.
INTERVIEWER: I mean now, at this point.
Weaver: Now, it's only me. I can't step out because of old age, so i stay home and weave.
INTERVIEWER: What do you children do now?
Weaver: One has gone to Bangalore, another to Bellary...
INTERVIEWER: What do they do?
Weaver: Whatever work they find...
INTERVIEWER: Your son in Bangalore, what does he do?
Weaver: He works in a dairy.
INTERVIEWER: What work? Daily labour or office work?
Weaver: He comes once a month gives us money, his wife and children are here-and leaves.
INTERVIEWER: The one in Bellary?
Weaver: He doesn't tell us. He mentioned something about Jindal factories which I don't know anything about. There's another son who never wove. He works as an electrician and lives happily in Kurnool. The fourth one is a mechanic here. I used to work in the mill. After I retired I took over the loom as my sons left to do other things.
INTERVIEWER: Your name, sir?
Weaver: Lakshmana. There were schemes and a society for this. Now everything’s been disbanded. Even the life insurance has been lost. We've been paying the installments but we didn't get the insurance after death. They claim we didn't pay.
They've removed the entire scheme. We have all the scheme books with us and are entitled to money, but nothing's come. The government is supposed to be sending the money but here it has never reached us. A relative passed on recently and was registered with the scheme but nothing had come off it.
Speaker: My name is Shivashankar.
INTERVIEWER: Your name?
Speaker 3: Raghavendra.
INTERVIEWER: Your card has your name in it, right?
Speaker 3: Yes.
INTERVIEWER:So your co operative is government run... but you say YWCA... isn't it a Christian association?
Speaker: No this is the name the co op was started under Somappagaru.
Weaver: It used to be grand when he was around. It's mis-managed now. People have lost hope.
*Disturbance*too many people*
Speaker 3: Lot of people are working in hotels and any odd jobs available.
Speaker1: We had these same looms in my house and we fed and looked after several people and didn't have to work under anyone in the past.
Speaker: Now the thread is over and the weaving has stopped here. If we get the material regularly like every 15 days, then we can keep working but they give us thread once in 2-3 months...
We've won prizes in 1995, 96 and 97 for weaving the most amount. This was when there was the scheme run by Ranganna. They used weigh how much had been woven in a year. He established the society (Machani Somappa). It was because of him that we are weavers and grew up in the life. But now it is a problem.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have a weaver ID card? Photo ID?
Speaker: This was for a contest where they measured how much each person could weave in a given time. I won twice in a row.
Speaker: That's my general number. That's the wage account.
Speaker: Rs.32 for a metre.
INTERVIEWER: Is this one page?
Speaker: No, they're two. This is the amount I get. That's the total amount. Then the saree price (thread).
Here is the number of bed sheets or rugs. If it is 4 sheets, then is 916 centimetres, for 6 sheets 1372 cms. Total amount is Rs. 402, each saree is Rs. 16.10.
INTERVIEWER: Please continue.
Speaker: These are 7 bed sheets measured by the metre. Each metre is Rs.32.32 for us. Her are 7 rugs measuring 16.3 metres, total amount is Rs.586. For each saree is 10 paise which they withold for PF which we can take whenever we wish. Here Rs. 12 goes and we're left with 482 and in the end we get Rs.432 in hand. This can be done in 3 days if we have the material. When Somappagaru was around, we used to do this much work in 3-4 days. Now, we cannot make even Rs.200 per week.
I'll show you the numbers.
The date here is 10 December 2011. That is when they gave us the thread. Then January came and the next time they gave us thread was in March. Two months had passed. What can we do for 2 months? If it was a week or so then we could adjust.
INTERVIEWER: Then they came in May.
Speaker (to his father): Since when have you been weaving?
Father: since 1972.
Speaker: We've grown up on this. My entire family has. We have no other job skills. Now the situation is just dire. Dharmawaram silk sarees were famous once now the weavers there are starving. We're hoping the government would acknowledge us and see who really needs aid and look after the ones starving.