Cheap Chinese copies shrink India’s silk sari industry

NEW DELHI, January 5, 2011 (AFP) – For centuries, the stunning silk saris woven by hand in the holy city of Varanasi have been prized by Indian women, but an influx of cheap Chinese-made copies is destroying the local industry. Badruddin Ansari, one of the few weavers still in business, says that most of his former colleagues now struggle to eke out a living as vegetable sellers, tea stall operators or rickshaw drivers.

“When a person loses his home and his livelihood, where can he go?” he asked angrily.

“I hope the art of making Banarasi saris will survive. The government must ban these imported saris or put a heavier duty on them to save the domestic industry.”

Banarasi silk saris — named after Banaras, the former name of Varanasi — are famed for their embroidery and still sought after by northern Indian brides for their big day, even though the dresses are now normally made in China.

Rajni Kant, director of the Human Welfare Association, a non-profit group working with weavers in Varanasi since 1993, has seen the damaging effect of Chinese imports.

“To give just one example, a 55-year-old man I know started weaving at the age of 15,” he said. “He quit the handloom three years ago and now wo