Spinning silk in the [Neoliberalised] “Silk City” of India

Abstract: Hand spinning has been the most common work done by women of almost all classes and castes in pre-colonial and even colonial-India. This tradition was gradually abandoned in favor of mill-produced yarn. However, women, especially from weaving castes, in important textile production regions continued spinning even at the turn of the millennium. One such pocket was Bhagalpur, also known as India’s “silk city”. But influx of imported yarn since 1990s severely affected Bhagalpur’s silk production, now monopolised and controlled by few businessmen. Declining wages has compelled spinners to work in extremely perilous conditions and for longer hours. This paper intends to explore the impact of changing dynamics of silk business on living and working conditions of women silk spinners in Bhagalpur.

Keywords: spinners, weavers, home-based workers, liberalisation, invisibilisation, capitalism, commercialising world, unhygienic work conditions , loss of livelihood


Introduction of modern industry by British colonisers was perhaps the first capitalistic attempt to alienate traditional workers from their identity as workers in India. This prolonged alienation was gradually internalised by the labor historians as well as the workers of traditional sector. In the instance of informal women workers, already peripherised by patriarchal norms, the course of alienation was multifaceted (Baneria, 2003: 10). Originating from highly stratified society and shaped by racialised colonial policies that aimed at maximising profit through invariable moves of differentiation and dispossession (Katrak, 2006: 3), each of these identities covert not only workers, specially women workers, contribution to economy and society but also their existence as a human being. Though democracy acknowledges this labour’s status as a citizen, the neocolonial desperation for uninterrupted expansion of market further intensified the dreadful blend of pre-colonial feudal and pro- market colonial approach towards informal women labour and subsequently transfixed their existence in a constant state of exile. In most of the cases, these exiled, veiled, and invisibilised informal women workers have gradually internalised their society-state-economy orchestrated status as given and even natural. These exploited and oppressed bodies of informal women workers are neither the concern of state nor of society and family. This article attempts to understand how these workers’ alienation by the state and influences their existence as a worker by reviewing the example of a group of informal women workers, experiencing gradual erasure of not only their identity as labour but also of their specific work in the production process. These workers are the silk spinners of Bhagalpur (Bihar), also known as the “silk city of India”.

Spinning has been one of the most common income generation activity carried out by women across all castes and class in India (Buchanan, 1934: 77). In the weaving communities, women’s primary role in the main production process has been spinning and reeling yarn and washing and starching the prepared yarn and woven textile. But today machine made stronger yarn is widely replacing the hand spun yarn and this transition is gradually obliterating spinning from the process of silk production. Baring few exceptions, women in weaving communities of urban Bhagalpur do not spin silk yarn anymore and this low paid, tedious and unhygienic work is carried out by a handful of women living in some pockets of rural Bhagalpur. The article refers to this transition for understanding the interplay of already peripherised women workers’ dependence on a disappearing means of livelihood and their physical well being in the context of rapidly and rampantly commercialising world.

It would be imperative to note that I have been associated with the spinners of Bhagalpur since late 1990s, which also include two years’ (1997-1999) experience of working directly with them. I have also conducted an ethnographic study with Bhagalpur’s spinners in 2004-06 and had been noticing gradual erasure of spinning from the silk production process in the past two decades. The article begins with a brief note on historical transition of silk production and trade in this “silk city of India”, followed by an analysis of women spinners’ changing space in silk business and its impact on their health. Transition of the unhygienic work of spinning from a fundamental process of silk production- one of the most common income generating activity carried out by women across all castes in Bhagalpur- to an unnecessary work represent a conflicting context where loss of livelihood for women also implies their liberation from a work that severely affect their health. Does shrinking of this work reflect women’s liberation from an unthankful, tedious, extremely low paid and awfully unhygienic work? Or, loss of livelihood further complicates their lives and this liberation, in case it is, affect their well being in all senses? The concluding section of the article attempts to approach these questions from the perspective of women silk spinners and women associated with their organisations.

The most compelling challenge for me while writing this article has been my limited experience and exposure to issues pertaining to women’s health. Being trained in the disciplines of Economics, International Development and Global Gender Studies, I had earlier been focusing on informal women labours’, specially Bihar’s home-based workers’ (like Bhagalpur silk spinners), transition in the rapidly commercialising world order. I mainly concentrated on the political economy of their invisibilisaiton by the dominant mode of production. During my research, however, it became clear that their health was most appalling and a major concern. Tracing those dynamics that influence the health of women silk spinners in the backdrop of spinning’s historical transition from being the most common work of women across castes and classes to its obliteration from the silk production process became a challenge. It called for an exploration of the non-medical determinants of Bhagalpur silk spinners’ health.

Silk in the “Silk City of India”

Bhagalpur, one of the four subdivisonal headquarters of colonial India, has been an important silk production and trading centre since time immemorial. The city is an agglomeration of five sister towns namely Champanagar, Nathnagar, Bhagalpur city, Mirjanhat and Barari. The first two of these five towns have been historically significant silk fabric production and marketing centres. This article focuses on the silk spinners of Nathnagar, which is adjacent to Champanagar, the capital of ancient Bhagalpur. The twin township of Nathnagar and Champanagar shared an interdependent association as a silk producing and trading centre respectively. Situated on the bank of Ganges, Champa (contemporary Champanagar) was one of the six great cities of India at the time of Buddha and was noted for its wealth and commerce. Silk production and trade were main occupations of people in Champa and Nathnagar where sericulture flourished during the period of Harsha (606-647). Champa and Patliputra were important centers of international trade in pre- colonial India. Historian Anand Yang notes that goods “were carried from Patliputra (later Patna) and Champa (later Bhagalpur) out to the seas and on to the ports in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia” (Yang, 1998: 27). Patliputra was mainly known for its bazaar whereas Champa was both a major production centre and a bazaar that was even closer to the port of Kolkata. Bhagalpur remained an important center of silk manufacturing during the Mughal period (1526-1765) and even in the Colonial Regime (1765-1947). With over 30 verities of industries, Bhagalpur was the most diversified production centre of Bihar in Buchanan’s survey, conducted in early nineteenth century (Buchanan, 1939). Buchanan estimates (in 1810-11) that there were about 3,275 looms at work, producing mainly three verities of silk: Tasar, Mulberry and Erie (Buchanan, 1939: 610). The industry, however, suffered from foreign competition, especially from Lancashire fabrics in the later part of nineteenth century (Diwakar 1958). W. W. Hunter’s survey of the district clearly indicates this transition. In comparison to Buchanan’s “An Account of the district of Bhagalpur”, Hunter’s “Statistical Account of Bhagalpur”, conducted six decades after that of Buchanan’s surveys, offers a more compatible picture of the Bhagalpur silk industry. But like Buchanan, Hunter also doesn’t discuss those factors that shaped the lives and work of women engaged in district’s industry. He notes that though the number of looms in Bhagalpur has “undoubtedly diminished” from the time of Buchanan, the silk industry of the town, especially Tasar silk, was still important (Hunter, 1877: 180-1). Hunter also discusses how certain weaving castes like Jualahas were opting for alternative livelihoods to make their two ends meet.

In the early twentieth century, declining textile imports from the UK in the wake of the two World Wars indirectly gave some relief to the Indian handloom industry. The war, followed by the Swadeshi Movement, facilitated the revival of handloom industry. Silk, one of the oldest natural fibers, came back into the international textile market in the post-world war period and Bhagalpur had about 160,000 women spinners in mid 1920s (Buchanan 1934). The city gained a name in staple weaving. This cheap and durable weaving was known as Bhagalpuri in the Indian silk market. Bhagalpur silk got a chance to expand in an organised way after the independence of India, especially during the first few Five Year Plan period, starting from 1951. The government, specially the state-run Central Silk Board, took several initiatives to facilitate the growth of the Bhagalpur silk industry. A Spun Silk Mill and a Silk Institute were also established in the city. Bhagalpur silk could create substantial space in the international silk market and witnessed a period of growth between 1960s and 1990s. Until the late 1990s, almost 90 percent of the population in Nathnagar and Champanagar depended on the silk industry1.

The international market of Bhagalpur silk sustained through the wave of colonisation, modernisation and industrialisation during the past two centuries. But the silk of the “silk city” seems to be facing serious challenges in the new millennium. Bhagalpur silk has been witnessing a constant downfall since late 1990s. The silk industry was directly affected after the communal riots of 1988 and liberalisation of Indian economy in 1990. According to an agreement with the WTO (World Trade Organisation), India had to remove restrictions for a large number of silk and textile products after 1990. This led to an inflow of silk yarn and clothing from other Asian countries, especially from China and Korea. It became possible to buy imported yarn with a license. Now readymade yarn is available in the market and this yarn is cheaper and more durable than the hand spun yarn. This transition had a drastic impact on spinners. Poor spinners, who were not able to rear cocoons because of deforestation, could not afford to get the license. Consequently, they lost access to the raw material. They are losing their space in the city’s silk business and looking for alternative sources of livelihood. There has been a significant decline in their number and by the turn of millennium it was difficult to find spinners in the urban parts of Bhagalpur. Today, they are literally invisible in urban parts of the district.

Spinning Silk in the Silk City

Spinning was the most common work done by women of almost all class and caste in pre-colonial as well as colonial India. Women of each household generally did their own spinning, but a great deal of this work was also “put out to other women, especially to widows” in traditional village-based economy of India (Buchanan, 1934: 77). Early twentieth century American author Daniel Huston Buchanan found this tradition common even in 1914 but was gradually abandoned in favor of cotton mill that produced finer and stronger yarn. While the cotton mills significantly affected hand spinning of cotton yarn, spinning of silk in important silk production pockets of India could manage to survive despite the influx of imported machine spun silk yarn. Bhagalpur continues to be one of the important pockets of silk production and trade in India. Like other silk producing regions, Bhagalpur was known for its specific variety of silk textiles, especially Tasar, Erie, Mulberry and Matka. Demand for these specific silk textiles could generate demand for hand spun silk yarn of specific verities, made by local women. Although silk industry of Bhagalpur witnessed downfall in the late nineteenth century, it gradually revived following the declining demand for Lancashire textile during and after the Wars and more importantly with the revival of handloom and rural industries during the first few planning periods of independent India. Thus, Bhagalpur silk industry witnessed a steady progression in the wake of recurrent booms and slumps during the twentieth century. Unfortunately, the new millennium does not seem to be promising.

The city has been witnessing a rapid decline in silk business and many inhabitants engaged in the business believe that silk is dying in Bhagalpur. Influx of imported silk yarn after the liberalisation of Indian economy, especially after lifting of import restrictions in 1990, seized silk weavers’ access and control over raw material in many ways. Provision of having license for importing cheaper and durable silk yarn estranged many weavers and spinners who had neither money to pay for required

forms and “processing” of their application forms and nor were they able to fill the application forms (Chatterjee and Mohan, 1993: 96-99). This implied loss of livelihood for many weavers and spinners and further intensified concentration of silk business under the control of wealthier businessmen who could afford to get the license; buy raw material in bulk from neighboring states of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa; and export silk after polishing, dying and printing. Small weaving families, who functioned like small entrepreneurs, could not manage to sustain their independent business and were left with no other option but to work as wage labour.

Another reason that spinners identified as a drastic incidence responsible for their vulnerable condition was the communal riot of 1989. Even after over twenty-five years, both Tanti and Julaha, the two main Hindu and Muslim weaving castes, respectively, spinners and weavers refer to riot as a landmark event which divided their lives in two parts- before the riot and after the riot. Many of them refer riots also as an event that facilitated concentration of silk business in the city. The poor Hindu and Muslim weaving families had to leave their houses and workshops during the riots and by the time they return after things settled down, their looms, prepared silk yarn and textile were either looted or destroyed. It was difficult for the poor weavers to revive from the enormous set back they had to go through during the riots. By early 1990s, many of the weavers and spinners had lost their means of subsistence and were bound to work as wage laborers. Influx of imported silk yarn further complicated their lives by wiping out even the hope of revival.

The swiftly changing global dynamic in the past two decades has also left a severe impact on Bhagalpur silk industry. Two such economic and political dynamics that affected the silk industry as commonly referred2 by the people in silk business in Bhagalpur are: i) global financial crisis, especially after the collapse of 2006 housing bubble in the US and

ii) unrelenting tension between India and Pakistan, following the Kargil War. The US was an important importer of Bhagalpur silk but prolonged economic depression has affected the demand for Bhagalpur silk in the US. Pakistan, on the other hand, not only offered a market for Bhagalpur silk but also a route to conveniently access the massive silk market of the middle-east. Now the market in Arab countries and other middle-east countries has become inaccessible for not so wealthy silk traders. These global dynamics severely affected the silk industry of Bhagalpur. Today, the number of powerloom in Bhagalpur has reduced to 7000 and handloom to 6000. As per Handloom & Sericulture section of the Department of Textile Industries (Bhagalpur), about 11,000 weavers are working on powerloom in the district and 15,000 are working on the handlooms. This aggregate population of weavers includes about 25 percent women. This implies that about 6,000 to 7,000 women are engaged in reeling and other allied activities of sericulture in Bhagalpur. Though there has been no survey of spinners in the recent past, approximately 5,000 Kattins are still spinning in rural parts of Bhagalpur and Banka3. Bhagalpur district, which included Banka until 2000, inhabited about 160,000 women spinners in 1920s (Buchanan, 1934). This number was reduced to about 25,0004 by the end of the twentieth century.

Concentration of silk business into the control of few rich businessmen have left women spinners with no option but to either work on extremely low wages or seek for alternative livelihood opportunities. Women in weaving families now mainly reel the silk yarn provided by businessmen. Those who are still continuing spinning are catering to the exclusive demand for handspun silk yarn which is very expensive and hence demand for such yarn is very limited. Increasing use of machine made silk yarn, specially imported silk yarn, is replacing spinning as an essential step of silk production. The declining demand for hand spun yarn led to closing down of the Bhagalpur Silk Spun Mill in late 2000s. The Mill offered a regular livelihood opportunity for local spinners even in early 2000s. The preliminary and once fundamental work of spinning has become a silent work today.

Spinning: The ‘Dirty’, Menial, Unthankful, Low paid and Unhealthy Work

Spinning is not done in the urban Bhagalpur at all. And most of the women who are still spinning silk yarn in some rural pockets of Bhagalpur like Daudnagar, Harnaut, Khaira and Radhanagar find it a very dirty, extremely low paid, tedious and unhealthy work. These spinners could barely make Rs 100 a day if they work along with all the female members of their families who assist the spinner by boiling and drying cocoon and help in other processing work. The spinners in rural Bhagalpur usually get cocoon from the businessmen which they process for about 7-8 days before it gets ready for spinning. Each day of this processing phase includes 5 to 6 hours boiling of cocoon for about 7-8 days along with spinning and cleaning the prepared yarn. At times cocoon gets infected and then spinners have to bear the additional burden of disinfecting cocoon by drying it in sun. Spinning requires women to sit in one posture for long hours while repeatedly dipping their fingers in watery starched solution for smoothening the processes of pulling strands from boiled cocoon, dipped in ash. Although matka, earthen pot, and hand spinning are also common, most of the spinners use their thigh for spinning. Thus their hands and thighs are damped with starched water and ash for over 4 to 8 hours in a day. Spinning is also an unhygienic and agonising process because of the smell of dead worms. Another factor that adds to complications for spinners is the market norms. The middlemen or the businessmen weigh cocoon when they give it to the spinners. They pay for the thread of equal amount. It is obvious that the weight of cocoon would be more than that of the thread as the dead worm comes out of the cocoon after spinning. But the businessmen are not ready to understand this simple logic and spinners are not in a position to bargain. Nevertheless, poor spinners explore ways to minimise their loss, which ultimately affect their health. One common way to minimise this loss is to add mud in the water while starching yarn as it increases the weight of yarn. But the process of boiling starch with mud and dead cocoons generates an unbearable smell. Furthermore, dust and fibers coming out of the cocoon during spinning and even during weaving affect the environment of weavers’ and spinners’ houses and their health.

The unhygienic working conditions, sitting in filth for long hours and unhealthy postures and exposure leads to many health complications for spinners. Leucorrhea, problems related to upper respiratory passage, lungs, spine, abdomen and skin are referred as some of the most common health complications by the spinners and the local doctors. Tuberculosis is very prevalent among spinners and weavers. Local doctors referred to unhealthy working and living condition and extremely low wages as the major factor that severely affect the health of spinners. Most of the middle-aged spinners, who are free from the responsibilities of young children and, to some extent, from other household chores, cannot make more than Rs 100 in a day after spending over 8 hours in spinning while their daughters and daughter-in-laws boil and prepare cocoon for spinning and even help in spinning. In this situation, people do not want to continue spinning. In any case, machine spun yarn has already replaced spinning as an essential part of silk production.

Unfortunately, spinners’ vulnerable living and working condition have not been able to draw the attention of any concerned organisations, including the government. There are several health care programmes for weavers. But since spinning is neither visible nor pronounced, specific programmes for spinners are not envisioned. Most of the women spinners of Bhagalpur are not even aware of the Health Insurance Scheme for weavers5, possibly the only health care service meant specifically for weavers. Traditionally, women in weaving families used to spin and therefore any welfare programme for weaving families meant for both weavers and spinners. But the context has changed now. Men in most of the spinners’ families are not necessarily weavers by profession whereas the aforementioned policy is for weaver families that hardly have any spinner. Women in families engaged in weaving usually reel the yarn and do other supplementary work related to silk production. Spinners, on the other hand, usually are those women who have not quit this profession yet as there is specific demand for hand spun yarn and the cloth made by such yarn are very expensive. Men in the families of women spinners are not necessarily engaged in silk production. In a context, where identity of a family and family business is determined by men’s work, women spinners’ access to this only available health care policy meant for weavers is ipso facto impeded.

Let it die…

Spinning, one of the most common work done by women across class and caste until mid twentieth century, is now going through a process of erasure. Many people associated with the silk industry today are not even familiar with the term spinning. Though preliminary work of spinning was never considered important, it was not an unfamiliar or unpronounced work. The word “spinning” has become a silent letter in the production of silk textiles. This gradual silencing of a full time work, exclusively assigned to women, represent not just economics of silk business in the wake of globalisation but also of the politics of language that is powerful enough to invisibilise the conspicuously visible women worker’s body along with the labor she produces by using her body. The well being of this worthless body is neither the concern of state nor of the women’s family and society. While the state alienates these bodies by barricading their access to market and their contribution to be monetised, repercussions of their unrecognised labour materialises on a day to day basis through women’s limited access to nutrition, rest and health care services (Soman, 2011: 252).

Ironically, most of the spinners in Bhagalpur seem to be not too worried with elimination of hand spinning from silk production process. Women spinners’ ease with the diminishing significance of spinning in the silk production process compels one to question the relevance of this extremely exploitative work for women. Women from urban weaving families refer to spinning as a dirty-tedious-menial work and those engaged in spinning in rural Bhagalpur consider it an unbearable compromise. Many of them insist that either spinning should be highly paid job or it should be completely abandoned and are working mostly as wage labour. Is erasure of spinning, then, a step of liberation for women spinners from oppressive, unthankful, unhealthy and tedious work? Or, extinction of this livelihood opportunity for thousands of women spinners is going to further complicate women spinners’ lives? Is there a need to preserve this ancient work from the pressure of market economy? Most of the spinners I interacted with in Dariyapur village of Nathnagar insisted that this work must be abandoned for a better paid, less tedious and hygienic work. Some elderly women expressed their wariness with the diminishing role of spinning The looming erasure of a full-fledged women’s work in a span of about two decades is certainly not comfortable. Nevertheless, the nature of this extremely demanding and low paid work that severely affects the health of women compels one to question its relevance. This obliterating work, however, was once one of the most common works done across all castes and class and this fact problematises spinning’s nature as an essentially unhealthy and unbearably tedious work in the silk production. However, they also reinforced the general consensus that spinning should be abandoned for a better work.

Although silk spinning, unlike cotton spinning, was a more specialised work and hence not as commonly done as cotton, women in almost all families engaged in silk weaving spun silk yarn. The main factor that makes this work more oppressive in the new millennium is extremely low wages that compel women spinners to work for longer hours while compromising with their health and well being. Few elderly women spinners shared that although they could not make independent income as their work was part of family-based silk production unit, they worked for fewer hours and, to some extent, as per their convenience. Almost all the spinners I have interacted in past fifteen years recognise introduction of license for importing “Korea”, commonly referred term for imported silk yarn from Korea, as a fateful event that marks the beginning of Bhagalpur silk’s downfall in general and spinners gradual erasure in particular.

The old Formula of Monopolising by Criminalising

Introduction of license system for monopolising production of even basic goods has its roots in the history of colonialism. License system prevented people to continue their traditional occupation without license. It practically barricaded common people’s access to their means of subsistence by criminalising either production or production process. Criminalisation of informal production was a popular strategy that facilitated colonial regime in monopolising production while alienating labour from not only the surplus of their labour but also from their identity as labour. Neocolonial era is witnessing a revival of those tried and tested formulas. Introduction of license for importing machine made silk yarn, which was cheaper and more durable, after the liberalisation of Indian economy jeopardised spinners and weavers’ access to silk yarn. Poor weavers could neither pay the application fee required for getting the license and nor could they fill the forms. Many people dependent on silk production as their means of subsistence and who could not find any alternative livelihood were left with no option but to smuggle imported yarn. This led to invariable police raids on home-based silk production units and criminalisation of silk weaving families. The changing dynamics of silk business after the liberalisation of Indian economy led to a gradual shift of silk production from numerous small home-based production units of weaving families to workshops of few businessmen.

Cocoon rearing, which was not uncommon in Bhagalpur even in the late twentieth century, had already become an obsolete work with rampant deforestation in the wake of development and modernisation. Introduction of license, backed by influx of imported silk yarn, had a drastic impact on demand for hand spun yarn. While weavers could manage to sustain as wage labourers for silk tycoons of the city, spinners were left with no work as imported yarn had replaced the hand spun yarn.

Like the colonial policies, the neocolonial policies are also amended in consonance with its pledge for profit that envisions labour as intermediaries for extracting profit. Once the labour is transformed into objects for profit venture, their administration as sub-humans becomes much easier. Alienation of dehumanised body of labour from her means of subsistence turns out to be an “unavoidable” approach for attaining the uncompromisable cause of profit. In case of woman, the body of labour is not only alienated and dispossessed but also erased from the production process, economy, and even from the society. For the dominant mode of production of our time, labour is most desirable when it is not even visible in the labour market. With growing concentration of capital and marginalisation of Keynesianism, corporation has become powerful enough to move towards a state where labour could be “transformed into a mere machine” (Lacher 1999). Workers’ role as a consumer is too limited to enable them as a bargaining force in the economy and hence the capital is ready to decline acknowledging even their existential reality. This discourse, backed by tremendous power of capital, plays a crucial role in the replacing of many groups of informal female workers including the silk spinners of Bhagalpur.

Re-turning Silk Production and Reclaiming the “invisibilised” Body

Despite the aggressive wave of modernisaiton, colonisation and industrialisation in the past two centuries, the traditional weavers’ and spinners’ status as entrepreneurs ensured almost splendid journey of Bhagalpur silk industry, which, in turn ensured spinners’ and weavers’ remarkably visible space in the society and economy. “Towards Equality”, the first comprehensive report on the status of women in independent India, notes that women weavers who could market their products could make about Rs 400 per month as against of those who made not more than Rs. 50 to Rs. 80 per month by working for others in mid 1970s (2012: 139). Though this reference is from Manipur where, unlike other parts of India, weaving is exclusively done by women, the unscrupulous gap in income while working as entrepreneur and wage labourer was applicable across almost all states in the country. With rapid concentration of wealth, this gap has even become wider. Needless to note that silk spinners’ and weavers’ devaluation from entrepreneurs to wage labour is one of the key factors that led to gradual erasure of spinning and reduced it to a degraded work performed by de-humanised bodies. Return of silk production in the homes of silk weavers and spinners could certainly facilitate the revival of silk industry and reform of silk production into a comparatively less oppressive work for women. Although this return would not necessarily liberate women spinners from oppressive structures of the dominant mode of production, it would certainly problematise the dynamics responsible for dehumanisation of silk spinners and their invisibilisation from the Bhagalpur silk industry, which engaged 160,000 spinners until mid 1920s. Silk spinners’ salvage from the dehumanised condition certainly calls for immediate policy intervention.

Given the transforming status of the state in neoliberal era, plausibility of state intervention for an invisibilised group of workers, however, seems to be very luminal. Since the state has been reduced to the role of market-manager in the wake multinational capitalism, expecting state intervention for the well being of silk spinners’ invisibilised bodies, would be a faux pas. The only hope of any potential change in the living and working condition of these dehumanised women spinners transpires by no one else but the spinners themselves. Amidst the depressing downfall of silk industry and constant dehumanisation of women in the industry, some women spinners, especially those associated with informal women workers’ organisations and unions, still hope for a better life. Their conviction in their organised strength is phenomenal. Some women silk spinners and their leaders, associated with trade unions and women’s movements like Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Janwadi MahilaSamiti, believed that women spinners’ would not be able to regain their status as a visible labour until they recognise their significance and reinforce their active and productive presence in the society, economy and as well as politics. They believe that this consciousness raising process must be supplemented by policy intervention for restricting yarn import, a step that would also facilitate revival of handloom industry, and modification of spinning process for making spinning a healthy, hygienic, less tedious and better paid work. Considering the rampant dehumanisation of informal women labour by the market, it would not have been possible to conclude this article, which aims at analysing non-medical determinants of health of a group of women workers who have already been insisibilised from the production process along with their work, on a positive note without few unionised silk spinners’ and their union leaders’ implausible hope in life and their conviction for change.


1 This estimated proportion was shared by Mr Rajkishore Singh and few other members of Bhagalpur Bunkar Association, a union of Silk Weavers associated with CITU. Looms and powerlooms are still visible in majority of houses in Nathnagar and Champanagar. The noise of powerloom and generator makes it difficult to even talk in most of the neighbourhoods with powerloom in these two townships.

2 Based on discussions and interview with members of Bhagalpur Bunkar Association and officials from Bhagalpur Silk Institute and the Handloom and Sericulture office of the Department of Textile Industries in Bhagalpur between May 4-7, 2014.

3 As per interaction with officials from Handloom and Sericulture office of the Department of Textile Industries of Banka and Bhagalpur on May 6, 2014.

4 Estimation based on interactions with officials from Department of Textile Industries, Bhagalpur and Banka.

5 The “Weaver Service Centre’s” Health Insurance Scheme for weaver ensures up to Rs 15000 for a weaver family of four people on an annual premimum of Rs 80. Bhagalpur’s Weavers Service Centre is a part of All India Weavers Association and it also provides Bunkar Credit Card to the weavers for upgrading their looms.


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ANAMIKA PRIYADARSHINI. A Masters in International Development from Conrnell University. Is currently pursuing Ph.D. from the Department of Global Gender Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo. Her doctoral dissertation intends to retrieve the history of nineteenth century Bihar’s women-based workers. She is associated with home-based workers’ international network ‘Home Workers Worldwide’ and has been working to underscore these workers’ issues since 2001. Her Masters thesis was also on women silk spinners, a group of home-based workers, of Bhagalpur. Anamika has about four years experience of teaching undergraduate students of SUNY Buffalo and masters students of the Centre for Development Studies, Central University of Bihar. Furthermore, she has worked with national and international governmental organisations as a development professional, researcher and trainer for over seven years. She has to her credit several research papers in academic journals. She is a recipient of several prestigious international awards, including Margaret McNamara Foundation Fellowship, Ford Foundation Fellowship, and is heading two major research projects on women’s issues.

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A Masters in International Development from Conrnell University. Is currently pursuing Ph.D. from the Department of Global Gender Studies, State University of New York at Buffalo. Her doctoral dissertation intends to retrieve the history of nineteenth century Bihar’s women-based workers. She is associated with home-based workers’ international network ‘Home Workers Worldwide’ and has been working to underscore these workers’ issues since 2001. Her Masters thesis was also on women silk spinners, a group of home-based workers, of Bhagalpur. Anamika has about four years experience of teaching undergraduate students of SUNY Buffalo and masters students of the Centre for Development Studies, Central University of Bihar. Furthermore, she has worked with national and international governmental organisations as a development professional, researcher and trainer for over seven years. She has to her credit several research papers in academic journals. She is a recipient of several prestigious international awards, including Margaret McNamara Foundation Fellowship, Ford Foundation Fellowship, and is heading two major research projects on women’s issues.

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