Weaving woes into child's life

The Statesman, Delhi December 21, 1991

Delhi: Sharp eyes and nimble fingers - from which the carpet industry has so far benefited immensely - have eventually cast their shadow on the trade. Exports of carpet have declined and the West has become aware that children weave carpets at home which are sold in the international market. A boycott of sorts of the Indian carpet has led the manufacturers to think about the little weavers.

The manufacturers from Bhadoi, Mirzapur and Varanasi in U.P. and the Bandhua Mukti Morcha led by Swami Agnivesh announced on Friday in New Delhi that a plan has been charted out by them for the release of scores of children in the industry.The joint meeting held in New Delhi was also attended by the voluntary organizations engaged in the task of monitoring the young weavers in the industry. The plan envisages release of about 2.5 lakhs children engaged in the carpet trade by the end of March, 1992.

Shades of twilight that the carpet weaving brings to the life of children could not be wished away as the All India Carpet Manufacturers Association felt that "some unscrupulous loom owners have been keeping the children engaged in the trade as bonded labourers". Besides U.P., these children come from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The trade has predominately been one with child labour. The belief has been that softer the fingers that weave carpets, greater the number of knots per square centimeter. On the strength of knot densities, the Indian carpet has been winning a higher price from firms marketing wall carpets abroad until the world knew through the efforts of the voluntary organizations about the plight of those who take to weaving early in life. The Indian carpets were then shunned in the U.K. and the USA.

Alarmed at the consciousness against child labour the manufacturers decided to mend their ways. Now they refuse to employ the children. Informed activists claim, given a chance even deft fingers can get trained at carpet weaving. Cheap labour offered by children is alleged to be the main cause for their extensive involvement in the trade. Instead of child labour, grown-ups would be taken for carpet manufacturing say the owners in the trade. Child labour has been mainly provided by contractors. The Bandhua Mukti Morcha like other voluntary agencies has been raising its voice against the practice for about eight years. However, little could be achieved until introspection on the part of the manufacturers after the exports registered a sharp decline.

At the meeting, the manufacturers were represented by the president of the All India Association, Mr. Raja Ram Gupta, besides his other colleagues. Children are to be replaced by adult workers over a period of time mainly to avoid dislocation of work. But critics of child labour apprehend that the children may join some other trade in the absence of adequate rehabilitation, assistance and educational facility. What the children would need is perhaps vocational training along with efforts to make them literate.