Varanasi: Weaving a future for Madanpura

To school or not to school. That is the big question.

 |  4-minute read |   22-09-2014
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Take a walk through Madanpura, one of Banaras' main neighbourhoods of silk weavers.

As you walk, you pass handloom workshops on either side, with rows of two or more looms set into the ground, illuminated by naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling. You pass squares with shops of favourite local sweet and savoury snacks, where festivals such as Muharram and Barah Wafat are celebrated with pomp. You pass mosques, madrasas and the homes of weavers and silk firm owners, some small and old, others newly renovated and multiple-storied. On a weekday, the weavers will be hard at work in their workshops completing orders, or taking a break from work by wandering the lanes or having a cup of tea at the corner shop.

You will also see many children, even during school-going hours, playing in groups in the lanes. There are many aspects of the artisans' world in Banaras that are closely tied to the question of their economic uplift. One such aspect is that of education. Weavers value education and send their children to schools all over the city, choosing the type of school depending on what they can afford. Yet particularly among poorer families of independent weavers, children drop out of school in order to begin the training that will allow them to contribute to the household income. An important factor that exacerbates this high dropout rate is the wide gap that exists between the school and the home.

The culture of the typical private English-medium school or the typical government school in the city differs radically from that of the weaver's home. The skills and values taught in school seem, after a point, not just to the parents but also to the child himself to have little relevance for a future in the weaving world. The school does not consider the concerns of either the parents or the child, which reinforces the gap between it and the home. And of course, as in the case of most government schools but also many private schools, when the school is not even able to function at a fundamental level - with late or absent teachers, little teaching happening and basic resources missing - its irrelevance is only carried to the extreme. For the richer master weavers and wholesalers, who choose to send their children to expensive private schools, this home - school divide is a problem as well. Only very few of their children complete any course of study.

One could say that with so many schools that barely function at a minimal level, we are far from instituting any imaginative pedagogical methods that would address the needs of weavers' families. But there is much that could be done along the lines of education to go along with the trade facilitation schemes that the Modi government has proposed for the weavers of Banaras: simple programmes to work with families; training of relevance to children who have chosen to join the family business and available to other children as well, such as in art and design, technology, or accounting, which would enhance the training already provided at home - these are just two examples. The government has proposed such training programmes for adult weavers, but why not start with children, or address them as well? Why not ask the weavers themselves of what they perceive to be their needs and their children's needs? The government could also draw from the experience of individuals and NGOs that are already working for education and with the city's artisans.

Writer

Saraswati Nandini Majumdar Saraswati Nandini Majumdar

Author of Banaras: Walks Through India's Sacred City. Nandini is associated with NIRMAN, a non-profit organization based in Varanasi that works for education, the arts and international exchange (www.nirman.info).

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