INDIA: Ten million skilled workers facing extinction in India

Mr. Neeraj finally decided to put an end to everything. On June 12, 2007 he consumed a large dose of poison and committed suicide. Neeraj was a handloom weaver from Benipur village in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh.

Neeraj’s family was in the handloom weaving industry making silk sarees. The industry by and large is dead in India not being able to cope-up with the market inflow of cheaper products imported from abroad and due to the complete neglect of the state and central administration to protect and promote the industry within and outside the country. Neeraj’s death is a symbol of the industry itself and the plight of an estimated ten million handloom weavers struggling to make a living across the country.

Hand-woven cloth once symbolised the freedom movement of India. The powerful tool that depicted the Quit India Movement started by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the father of the nation. As of today however, handloom industry in India, particularly in Varanasi, the home for the famous Banaras silk saree is practically dead. This decline also depicts the shallowness of the government’s policy initiatives in addressing the pressing demands of the people of India.

The country that projects itself as a fast developing nation boasts about a near to ten point growth rate. However, the reality is this growth rate is limited for the benefit of a meagre 20% of the country’s population. The rest of the population that remains isolated in the rural villages of India is yet to benefit from the enviable improvement in living conditions their fellow citizens have achieved in the metros.

This divide has created an economic polarisation within the country. Policies often made after least debates by the above 20% of the population fails to percolate into the rural backyard of India. Starting from import and export policies to implementation of social welfare schemes have all failed to reach the target group, the poor of the country, due to the failure in implementation of these policies.

The failure in implementing social welfare policies is largely because of the myopic vision of the policy makers and further due to the complete congestion of the justice delivery mechanisms. In Neeraj’s case for example, the family was entitled to several social welfare schemes. Neeraj and his family are entitled to subsidised ration and in theory for jobs through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme. Owing to the corruption in the implementation of these programmes the family never could get their name registered to procure a Ration Card, a document that could have allowed them to buy food grains and oil for subsidised rates through the government run Public Food Distribution System (PDS) shops. Neeraj, though had applied several times for an employment card never obtained one since he was not able to pay bribes to the officials who issued the card. His complaints were never heard and finally having lost all his hope he decided to put an end to his miseries.

Corruption and nepotism is the hallmark of Indian administration. Corruption is deep-rooted well within the administrative setup. There are no possible mechanisms through which corruption could be checked. In reasonably functioning democracies the most effective way by which corruption in public life was brought down and kept to the minimum are through well functioning justice mechanisms. In India where the justice mechanisms itself are suffering from various problems including corruption and over load of work, expecting a court to interfere when it is required to is almost an impossibility.

Corruption in food distribution and enrolment of persons entitled for the benefit of government sponsored employment generation programmes is a crime that has to be investigated by the local police and prosecuted by the state. However, for ordinary people like Neeraj, the local police is nothing other than a criminal in uniform and the prosecutor a state agent no better than a local party leader wearing a lawyer’s robe.

These alarming features of the state at the local level are reflected in the central administration as well. Short-sighted import and export policies were tailor-made to cater vested interests of a few business houses inside and outside the country. Such actions have not only killed home-grown industries but have also sold the country to foreign interests. Those who survived found their way through by compromising on values and paying heed to demands of corruption and nepotism.

The handloom silk weaving industry of India is one of the worst hit in this process. The industry as such had no collective bargaining power to place their demands with enough force so that their occupation could survive the onslaught of open market invasion. Institutions like the courts that could have guaranteed fair-play in the market did not only function properly but is equally corrupt as the politicians in India.

On July 23, 2007 the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, the Action Aid International – India, the Bunkar Dastakar Adhikar Manch and the Asian Human Rights Commission – Hong Kong is holding a state level consultation to discuss and debate the issues of the handloom silk weavers and their acute poverty. The consultation will be held in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The state government has delegated fourteen high-level officers to participate in the consultation. The Planning Commission of India will be also represented in the consultation through one of its senior most members Ms. Sayeeda Hameed.

The Asian Human Rights Commission and its counterparts expects that the state and central governments of India will consider the findings of the consultation and would take immediate and appropriate steps to implement the recommendations drafted in the consultation.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-172-2007
Countries : India,