Bandhani - Livelihood for families of Wadhwan, Gujarat | Milaap

Bandhani - Livelihood for families of Wadhwan, Gujarat

Bandhani is a tye-die textile with patterns formed by tiny bindings that are done by manual labor work. It is generally done on cotton-based clothes and has beautiful patterns (mostly in white color) with the cloth colored in various dark colors. It makes for beautiful Indian sarees, suits, and dupattas. The artwork is done majorly in states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Punjab.

Different bandhani prints                                                                       Bandhani sarees are dried after being soaked in colors

Having lived in Rajasthan for 16 years of my childhood, I was used to wearing clothes with bandhani print. I had seen it so often that I never thought of it as a unique style of clothing. I felt glad that most foreigners visiting Jaipur (capital of Rajasthan), were extremely fascinated by bandhani print. I was happy that with such popularity and demand for this work, the people doing the work would be earning decent incomes and enjoying a good lifestyle. It was unlike stories I heard in the childhood of poor people who spent hours of manual labor making beautiful cloth-work but still couldn’t make ends meet.

Visiting the hub of bandhani work in Gujarat

However, I had never seen the process of making a bandhani cloth. Neither have I ever met a family involved in the process. During my travels as a Milaap fellow to the small town of Wadhwan in Gujarat, I got the opportunity. The town was the center of the largest bandhani work in Gujarat and it was fascinating to see bandhani wholesale shops below every house in the town.

It was amazing to see that the uncovered waste lines on both sides of the road were flowing with colored water. When I asked the person accompanying me for the visit, he told me that every family of this town is somehow involved in doing bandhani work. When they die the cloth in color the wastewater gets the same color and the city is flowing with different colored water all year round.

As I walked the narrow stairs leading to ‘Nayanaben Ghanshyambhai Dhada’s’ house, I could see how bandhani work affects the lives of these people. Her house had less space for the family to sit and sleep, instead, most of the area was utilized for dying of bandhani cloth and drying the material. Nayanaben has seen this work since she was a child, as the family is doing this work for past 45 years now.

Bandhani manufacturing process

They buy white cotton cloth material from wholesale markets in Rajkot and Surat. Then this cloth is tied by women in specific patterns for the design. These women get Rs 5 for making the design on one dupatta and Rs 10 for a saree. The work requires them to tightly tie the cloth in small circles using white threads. To make this small pattern on the entire cloth material they have to be extremely fast in the process to do around 4 - 5 sarees in a day. You can identify these women uniquely by looking at their swollen fingers, due to daily work.

Minaba shows her skill to create bandhani patterns                              Nayanaben showcasing the bandhani work at her home

Followed by the pattern, the cloth is dipped in colored waters of various colors, mostly dark red, blue, green and pink. Sometimes the cloth is dipped in 2-3 different colored water to give it various shades. It has to be dipped and dried several times to ensure the color is fully soaked on the cloth. I observed majorly men doing this work as it requires quite some physical energy.

Who is earning the profits?

Once the cloth is dried it shrinks and looks like a small cloth piece. It is then packed and sold in wholesale shops. The average price for which a saree is then sold in the wholesale stores is Rs 35 - 40. This money is distributed among women who made the print, workers who helped with the die and the final shop seller.
Can you imagine that this saree is then sold at an average cost of Rs 800 - 1200 in the cities. When I learned the money these people are making, it was a moment where of confusion. I was not sure if I should be happy that these people have a living or be sad that they make less than 5% of what this cloth is sold for.

However, the reduced profit margins due to various middlemen have not deterred these people from continuing the work their families started long back. Speaking to these families I realized that even when these poor people are aware of the opportunities for them, they have no means to establish contacts to eliminate the strong middlemen. Such is the plight of many local workers in various industries. Large profits to the middlemen are one of the most important reasons why people in our villages are not able to overcome the poverty circle.
I ended my Wadhwan visit hoping for a bright future and wishing that the business dynamics would slowly shift towards an ideal state where everyone gets their fair share.