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Crisis Unfolded

The Banaras Sari Industry

Entangled Yarns: Banaras Weavers and Social Crisis by Vasanthi Raman (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study), 2013; pp 126, Rs 350.

Raman’s monograph covering the crises in the Banaras cloth weaving industry since the latter part of the 1990s is actually a sequel to her earlier study titled: The Warp and the Weft: Community and Gender Identity among Banaras Weavers published by Routledge in 2010. The latter work was based on ethnographic fieldwork done between 2000 and 2007; the crises (studied in the monograph under review) exploded full steam on the scene post-2007; given the scale of its adverse impact on the lives of the weavers, it merited a separate study which the author undertook between 2007 and 2008.

The monograph provides a historical background to the present social and economic organisation of the industry in Banaras, followed by the structure of the Momin Ansari community, the predominant weavers in the Banaras sari industry. It sketches a fascinating but disturbing account of the nature and extent of the fractures that crept in the texture of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims that otherwise had, for long, characterised and sustained the industry in Banaras; this description of the fracture, consequent to changes in internal and external conditions, reveals not just the erosion of the cultural and social spaces of interaction between Hindus and Muslims at the everyday level but also the severe economic consequences that ensued following liberalisation policies and which fracture, to a large extent, rendered both the communities (particularly the lower classes among these) unable to withstand the onslaught of national and global trade and industry measures.

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