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Ramjibai Vishram Siju

Ramjibai's Interview Summary

Ramjibhai has been working as a weaver for the last 28 years. To learn the art of weaving, he proudly told us that after attending school, simply regularly watching the weavers at work acquainted him with the craft. Once he started seriously pursuing weaving it took a year’s time to fully learn and thereafter, he had acquired a perfect grasp of the craft. In terms of how long it takes to complete a piece, Ramjibhai said that it purely depends upon the design; if it is simple and embedded with just a few motifs then the weaver can weave faster. But, if a piece has a multitude of different designs within it, then it takes much longer to weave. Ramjibhai was very frank throughout the interview and told us that the weavers face a number of difficulties during their daily work. What bothers him the most is that his work binds him to one place. He works around 25 days out of every month and feels that his earnings do not match the hard work he puts in each day.

Ramjibhai belongs to a family of weavers; his father and grandfather also did weaving at home and his mother helped his father. His two sons aged 15 and 12 are still studying. His elder son, who is now in class 10, knows how to fill a bobbin and he can also weave some preliminary designs. Once his sons turn 18 he will find out whether they are interested in weaving as a career or not. Ramjibhai has five brothers, all of whom are not interested in weaving and are employed elsewhere.

Ramjibhai believes that his productivity really depends on his mood; if he is in a good frame of mind, ‘maujme ache ta’, he will weave a good number of pieces in a day. But, if he is in a bad mood, kantala, it impacts on his work.

He was quite amused by the fact that the University of Warwick and Professor Berg were recording interviews of the artisans to understand both their pasts and their current position. He flatly questioned “Why are they (people from Warwick) so interested in the crafts and craftsmen?” For him, his work is so monotonous that he could not understand why anyone would be interested in what he does.

He also discussed, in detail, some of the health problem the workers face. Particularly when they reach their 40s, many health problems emerge. He believes that the regular and plain diet of roti and vegetables keep them fit and energetic; the energy levels of the weavers can be affected by eating heavy foods such as laddoos (Indian sweets). He also added that their limited income is a deterrent when it comes to adding healthy food in their daily diet for good eyesight and other benefits Weaving, with all the different colours involved, greatly affects the eyes.

He feels that at least 10,000 rupees a month is required to lead a modest life. His wife often grumbles about their insufficient household budget and that ‘navda na male’; ‘ both ends do not meet’. Ramjibhai’s wife manages to earn between 1,000 and 1,500 rupees a month through decorating the hand woven shawls. Ramjibhai adds that this extra earning is only possible once the children are grown up. Despite listing all his problems, Ramjibhai is still happy in Bhujodi and enjoys its climate. The cooing evening breeze of the town is refreshing and, he says, it sweeps away stress and helps to get a good night’s sleep.

Ramjibhai also explained to us about the setting of the workshop. There are 4 pit looms in Shamjibhai’s workshop, and there are two assistants for bobbin filling. Filling the bobbin and setting the yarn for weft and warp are the usual first steps before the actual weaving begins. According to Ramjibhai, weaving in the workshop is very different from weaving at home. When a weaver is working at home is helped by the female of the household in terms of setting the yarn and filling the bobbin. However, in the workshop setting all the work concerning weaving is conducted and managed by men.

Ramjibhai emphasised to us the deplorable condition the weavers are working in. He hopes over the next decade, things will improve for good, and perhaps the link with Warwick will help. Ramjibai was the only interviewee who voiced the problems he faced so frankly and directly requested that we actively try and work to improve their lives.

Summary # 2

Name: Jepar Jitendra Ramjibhai

Age: 15

Education: Currently in Class 10

Originally from Radhanpar

Caste: Harijan

Jitendra, who is still studying, works on part time basis with Shamjibhai. His main task is filling the bobbin, and he mostly works during the school vacations. In school time he does not gets much time to do the work. He separates the bunch of yarn known as chag and fixes it on a makeshift machine that attaches it to a wooden bobbin. After working from 8.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m. and from 2 .00 to 6.00 he usually manages to fill around 25 to 30 bobbins, for which he receives only thirty rupees.

He is an above average student who scored a B+ in class 9 to graduate to class 10, which is the crucial and final year of schooling. His father was previously engaged in weaving but now works in Bhuj. Not deterred by his poor pay, Jitendra intends to continue to work hard.

Summary # 3

Name: Rajesh Harji Siju

Age: 24

Education: Class nine

Caste: Vankar

Rajesh, who sits on one of Shamjibhai Siju’s pit looms, is a proficient weaver. He was interested in completing his studies until at least class 10 but he could not continue due to adverse circumstances. In his family, he has a younger brother and elder sister. His younger brother also works for Shamjibhai Siju as a bobbin filler. His father also weaves but does so at home. Rajesh cannot work at home on his loom because having two looms is not affordable, and it places too much burden on the women of the house with all the bobbin filling required. His father’s productivity is not particularly high due to physical and social restrictions. He cannot work on the days when he is required to attend a social function or otherwise fulfil his community obligations. The cases of Rajesh’s father and Ramjibhai indicate that the weavers are still often bound by the social obligations of their communities. They are required to be socially very active and this affects their daily productivity and is reflected in their total monthly earnings.

On the whole, the labourers who put in the effort making these handicrafts are underpaid. Rajesh, for instance, who starts work at 7.30 in the morning and works until 6 p.m. with a one hour lunch break in between, is paid just 150 rupees a day. With such long hours of work he is entitled to a monthly holiday on sud bij, the second day of the full moon, when the owner himself closes the workshop.

Rajesh is satisfied with the kind of work he is doing however. He aspires to have his own weaving business, but is still aware of the amount of investment such an enterprise demands. Rajesh learnt how to work on a loom at the age of 14 or 15. He told us that it is preferable to start with counting a design or pattern, then move on to plain weaving, and finally do both the counting and plain weaving. Though counting is hard, it challenges and develops the weaver’s dexterity and becomes habitual. According to Rajesh it takes around two year’s time to learn and then acquire practical, hands-on experience. When the interview was conducted, he was weaving the edge of a shawl with a typical meri (small plaited) design so that the edges of the shawl remain tight and hard-wearing. Though inscribing meri on a shawl is tedious and time-consuming, the weavers’ like doing it as it breaks the monotony of working on the looms.

This part of summary belongs to the recording entitled ‘a group of weavers’ (Part 2 above).

The best part of interacting with these weavers was that, although most of them have financial problems, they all cheerfully answered the questions posed. They try to keep themselves in a happy state when they are working and they do several things which maintains a friendly work environment. While weaving, they keep the radio switched on for their daily entertainment. They clean their workplace daily too, and thereafter they collectively worship their small idol of Lord Ganesha and offer flowers to him. The weavers take tea breaks together to stretch their legs and arms. Although there is a division of labour, from bobbin fillers and yarn setters to the weavers on the looms and the washers, the workers also interchange their duties when needed. If there is a bulk order, for instance, and there are not enough bobbin fillers, the weavers will fill some bobbins and set yarn. Any such adjustments work in a reciprocal way, wherein whoever is free takes up some of the other work to cooperate with their colleagues and remain occupied. This type of understanding also avoids disputes between the workers.