Covid-19 Fallout: Barishal Shital Pati weavers in a bind
There's a group of artisans in Barishal who have been making their living weaving Shital Pati -- mats made out of cane -- for hundreds of years. In fact, there are entire villages, like Helencha village in Bakerganj upazila, where several dozens of households are devoted to the craft.
In the era of the lockdown, these weaver families are now living in terrible danger.
At least thirty houses from the village earn their livelihoods making and selling the mats. But due to the persistence of the pandemic, demand is down to an unbelievable level, and the families now feel like they're stranded.
The Shital Pati, weaved together with strips of a green cane locally known as "Paitra", is typically known as a family-oriented craft, where everyone from the household including adolescents participate.
Local artisans said they usually buy the raw material for Tk 7,000, with which they can make at least 22 Shital Patis.
The mat is of high value to Bangladeshi culture, and is held as a cultural symbol across many other nations. So much so in fact, that the Pati was announced as a cultural heritage during the 12th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage meeting, held in Jeju Island, South Korea, in 2017.
In Barishal's Patikar Para, many see the craft as their destiny, as the local children do not imagine growing up with access to higher education. This demonstrates the extent to which the village is dependent on the production of the mats.
Sandhya Rani Dey, a weaver from the village, said the Shital Pati made by them used to sell according to categories of length, design etc, with a typical six feet by seven feet and six inches going for Tk 800 to Tk 1,600.
Dilip Chandra Das, another artisan from the village, said they used to sell at least 50 of the mats to markets in Jhalakathi every week. But these days, sales have dropped by half. A lot of this is due to the absence of wholesalers, who are not coming to the villages to buy from them due to the pandemic.
In many cases, the weavers have received some support, but no official support from the government as of yet.
Rafiqul Alam, Barishal divisional president of Shital Pati Pratikar Unnoyon Samiti, said along with Helencha village, various villages of Bakerganj and at least five hundred families in Rajapur of Jhalakathi are involved in this profession. Although they are able to produce at least two thousand mats per month now, buyers are hard to find.
As a result, almost thousand weavers and their families are passing their days in unimaginable strife, being forced to stock up the Shital Patis they're unable to sell.
Contacted, Jalish Mahamud, deputy general manager of BSIC Barishal, said they are aware of the situation and are willing to come forward, but it will be difficult to do so with financial means.
"We can help the artisans train or help with marketing their products, but it is difficult for us to provide financial support, due to our own lack of funds."