- There were once more than 1,200 looms in at least 200 factories at Gutia
- The trade of Jamdani sarees was also booming then
- Now, there are only three hundred weavers of such kind in the area
- Weavers say their income not enough to meet their daily needs
- Many are quitting the trade due to rising yarn prices and continued losses
Jamdani and Benarasi sarees, symbols of Bangladesh's traditional weaving industry, have been produced in the country for hundreds of years. Some skillful weavers from Gutia area of Tongi, Gazipur still weave the artistic creations in a handful of factories.
However, this traditional weaving industry is currently under threat due to rising yarn prices, the entry of Indian sarees into the Bangladeshi market as well as an industrialisation and labour crisis. Industry insiders have said that without government incentives and technical assistance, the industry will soon go extinct in Gutia.
Admitting that this traditional weaving industry is being lost due to the free entry and sale of Indian sarees, Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) officials have said they are considering a plan to provide financial assistance to Jamdani and Benarasi weavers.
Once there were more than 1,200 looms in at least 200 factories in Gutia, which is five kilometers from Tongi Sataish area of Gazipur City Corporation. At that time the trade of Jamdani sarees was also booming. The sound of traditional weaving machines would hit your ears as soon as you entered the area.
However, at present, only three hundred weavers of such kind still exist in Gutia. Jamdani and Benarasi produced by these weavers go to different parts of the country including Dhaka's Mirpur. But the sound of the weaving machine is gradually fading as the weavers are increasingly unable to run their production lines due to various crises.
Weavers say they can make only three to four sarees a week which does not bring in enough money to fulfil their daily needs.
Mizanur Rahman of Sherpur is working as a Benaresi artisan in this area.
"The demand for Jamdani and Benarasi sarees is declining due to the Indian sarees. That is why we do not get paid that much. We cannot run our families with our monthly earnings," he said.
Jana Mia has been working as a weaver in Gutia area for the last 30 years. He said he lives with a family of five next to the factory.
"Weaving Jamdani and Benarasi was more profitable before. The market demand was good. Now the market is in recession. As a result, many factories in the area have closed. The number of weavers has decreased. In this situation we are having a lot of trouble in running our families," said Jana Mia.
Another artisan, Dulal Mia, said he is paid Tk800 per saree. The cost of making a saree including wages is Tk1,200-1,600. Depending on the quality, these sarees are sold on the market for Tk1,800-2,300.
He said his neighbours are shutting down Benarasi and Jamdani looms due to rising yarn prices and continued losses.
"There is no help from the government. No one at the government level ever came to us. If this continues, the remaining looms may soon be shut down," added Dulal.
According to the weavers, Jamdani and Benarasi sarees are not able to survive the intense competition in the market with Indian sarees.
Abdul Quader, a factory owner, said 30-40 Benarasi and Katan sarees are made in his factory every week. These sarees are sold all over the country.
He said the demand for Jamdani, Benarasi and Katan sarees has decreased. Even though the yarn is bad, people are buying Indian sarees because they are at a lower price.
"Benarasi and Katan sarees are in decline in the market as our yarn is good and relatively expensive. As a result, we are not getting the value we deserve. If the government helps this sector, this weaving industry will survive," said Abdul Quader.
Locals said that even though they did not get the required market price, some of the owners are still operating the weaving mills because of their ancestral tradition.
Zahura Fatema, extension officer of BSCIC, Gazipur, admits that the local weaving industry has not been able to survive due to the free entry and sale of Indian sarees.
"There are many BSCIC training programmes. We will arrange training for weavers too," she said.
"BSCIC provides financial assistance under its own programme with the support of Karmasangsthan Bank. We will provide financial assistance to those involved in the weaving industry according to their needs," she added.