Tant (handloom) weaver Roni Mia's earning was not bad before Covid-19 hit Bangladesh. That time he could send Tk5,000 to Tk6,000 to his parents after maintaining his family of three members ─ his wife, an eight-month-old daughter and himself. But for more than three months, he has no work.
Roni, a resident of Kathua Jugni village in Tangail Sadar upazila, said this on Tuesday afternoon while talking to The Business Standard. He lives beside the Louhajang River. He had been working as a handloom worker in a handloom factory adjacent to his home for four years. He said, "Due to coronavirus, the tant factory has remained closed for more than three months. My little savings were spent two months ago. Now we are passing the days in utter misery."
A few days ago, he decided to do the job of a day labourer. But earth digging work is not available every day.
Nure Alam of this village is also facing the same hardship. He has his wife and three children in his family.
Another handloom weaver of the village is Main Uddin. Like other handloom workers of the village, he has also become jobless. He said, "There are 1,200 handloom machines in our area. We have more than 600 workers and 350 owners here. But due to the coronavirus, all of them have become jobless. We are living in subhuman conditions."
All of them said they did not get any help from the government or the Bangladesh Tant Board.
According to Tangail Sadar and Kalihati Basic Centres of the Bangladesh Tant Board, there are 1,00,206 handloom workers and 152 owners of small handloom factories in the district.
Before the pandemic, the workers were busy weaving sharees day and night. Buyers from all over the country thronged Korotia, Bazitpur and Pathorail's markets to purchase Tangail tant sharees. The owners of the handloom factories used to pay back the loans of banks and NGOs by selling their sharees during the month of Ramadan ahead of Eid-Ul-Fitr. But this year, they have become more debt-laden than ever due to the crisis caused by coronavirus. Hundreds of workers have become jobless. Sharees worth crores of taka remain unsold.
Akkas Talukdar, president of the district Awami Tanti League, said, "Tant sharee of Tangail is our tradition. Coronavirus has rendered more than one lakh handloom workers of Tangail jobless. They are now living in subhuman conditions. Already we have applied to the district administration and the Bangladesh Tant Board for financial assistance."
Mominur Rahman, owner of a handloom factory, said, "I have 63 handloom machines. Workers from different parts of the country used to come here to earn their livelihood. I could not sell sharees worth around Tk70 lakh. We have to bear the loss caused by the pandemic over the next several years. Besides, we have not got any incentive from the government. If the government does not come forward to help the workers and tant owners, it will not be possible to save the tant industry."
Rabiul Islam, liaison officer at Tangail Basic Centre, also admitted that over one lakh handloom workers had become jobless. However, he said that on behalf of Sadar upazila administration, relief had been distributed among around 3,000 weavers through the Tant Board.
"Though there is no special incentive for the weavers, loan facility at five percent service charge has been given to the handloom factory owners. They can take loans from Tk30,000 to Tk2,50,000," said Rabiul.
Khan Ahmed Shuvo, president of Tangail Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said "Tangail Tant Sharee falls under the cottage industry. The handloom workers and owners are going through a very hard time. They need assistance from the government."
Meanwhile, the handloom factory owners and the workers have urged the government to solve their problems through a discussion with the weavers at the grassroots level to save the industry.