| Vimla Devi with husband Sant Saran. Picture by Sreyashi Dastidar
Bhaisasur (Nalanda), April 14: In the farthest hut of Sapunat mohalla, 2 km from Biharsharif, Sant Saran has been invalid for 40 years now. He is 70. His wife, Vimla Devi, a frail, prematurely-aged woman of about 50, has been supporting the family of three all these years, spinning on their one charkha, and selling the meagre produce to contractors.
But even that is a thing of the past. At five or six rupees a day, and in the age of powerlooms, it is no longer possible to make a living out of spinning.
Till a few decades ago, there were about 15 families of weavers and an active handloom weaversí cooperative in Sapunat. Now there is none. Most families have strayed to beedi-binding. Some, like Vimla Deviís son, work as daily-wage earners in makeshift factories manufacturing sal-leaf plates.
Things are not bright in the powerloom households of neighbouring Kagazi mohalla or Bhaisasur either. The same houses that produced fine Janata dhoti and saris a decade ago have been reduced to churning out reams of gauze bandages.
Ram Lakhan Prasad, one of the remaining members in Bhaisasur of a tribe fast becoming extinct, says there are only 35 powerlooms left in the entire district of Nalanda, where there used to be at least 500.
Rajinder Kumar of Kagazi mohalla has 14 machines, which are together capable of producing 50 to 60 thaans (9 metres each) every day. But he and his family do not produce more than 15, because the power to operate the machines is available for barely a couple of hours a day.
The state has also pulled out of marketing. Not one of the three state cooperatives exists any more, their place taken by contractors, many from outside the state. The subsidy from the Centre stops at the state bureaucratís table, and has not reached the weavers in 10 years.
With banks not coming forward to finance powerloom weavers, even the bandages produced in Nalanda are not enough to meet the stateís needs. Rolls of bandages come to Biharís hospitals from Bengal as the domestic industry languishes.
It is hardly surprising that as many as 6,000 weavers have left Nalanda for Panipat and other places in Haryana, where they earn Rs 100-150 daily, against Rs 25-30 in their home state. They hardly ever come back to vote for or against Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav.
Vimla Devi does not mind voting for the son of the soilís party though. So what if he has not done anything to ensure two square meals for her family, she has heard that he has done a great deal for others elsewhere. She thinks her turn, too, will come some day.