Silk weaving in Varanasi

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traditional Banarasi sari with gold brocade.

Silk weaving is the dominant manufacturing industry in Varanasi. Weaving is typically done within the household, and most weavers in Varanasi are Momin Ansari Muslims.[1] Varanasi is known throughout India for its production of very fine silk and Banarasi saris, which are often used for weddings and special occasions. The production of silk in Varanasi often uses bonded child labor, though perhaps not at a higher rate than elsewhere in India.[2] The silk weaving industry has recently been threatened by the rise of power looms and computer-generated designs and by competition from Chinese silk traders.

Many of Varanasi's Muslims belong to a weaver community that known by the name of Ansari, which means "helper" in Arabic. For generations they have passed on their craft from father to son, hand-weaving silk on room-sized foot-powered looms. They are fashioned into Sarees worn only for special occasions; many Indian girls dream of wearing Varanasi silk Saree for their wedding day.[3]

Varanasi has a high rate of Child labour given the unorganised nature of small scale industries.[4] According to Human Rights Watch, it is common for children as young as 5 or 6 to begin working in industry because it is believed to be more efficient to teach them from a very young age rather than teaching an older child of 12 the trade.[5] As of 2009, there are an estimated 300,000 weavers in Varanasi. Numerous weavers have lost work or moved elsewhere as saris become less popular in India and more imported saris impact the market.[6] Varanasi saris are adorned with intricate designs and zari embellishments making it popular during traditional functions and weddings. Earlier, the embroidery on sarees were often done with threads of pure gold. In 2009, weaver associations and cooperatives together secured Geographical Indication (GI) rights for ‘Banaras Brocades and Sarees’.[7] This silk is used in large part for the production of Banarasi saris, which are a regional type of sari made from silk.

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