Recycling saris turns into booming industry (With Images)

February 26th, 2012 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Agra, Feb 26 (IANS) Necessity is the mother of invention. When the war against pollution to save the Taj Mahal affected many factories and jobs here in the 1990s, hundreds of men and women took to repairing and facelifting old saris. Now it has turned into a booming industry and their skills are in high demand.

The trick is simple - old and used saris are turned into brand new products thanks to agile and artful hands that breathe life into a discarded six-yard wonder, even banarasis and kanjivarams.

Some call it imitation, but Surendra Singh Chandel, a local leader and activist, says it’s not cheating. “After all, the recycled products are not being sold at exorbitant prices at showrooms. They mainly target the weaker sections and price it accordingly,” Chandel told IANS.

The war against pollution, to save the Taj Mahal, halted the industrial development of Agra after the Supreme Court ordered closure of all polluting units in 1996. Iron foundries, glass units, brick kilns, chemical and textile industries had to bear the brunt. Many units found the transition to new technology financially unviable.

However, many enterprising workers who were left to fend for themselves found avenues for self-employment.

What began as an experiment in the trans-Yamuna area, a cluster of six villages, has now been transformed into colonies around Mehtab Bagh, right behind the Taj Mahal. It is a developed recycling industry that employs thousands of men, women and even children.

Kachchpura, Moti Mahal, Gadhi Chandni, Nagla Devjit and Abbas Nagar colonies are the new hub of manufacturing and trading saris and have more than 150 units.

It’s a major attraction for foreigners who come to see the Taj Mahal. Though most do not understand what’s going on, what fascinates them is the riot of colours spread by washed saris being dried.

Over years, workers have acquired the art of repairing and face-lifting old saris into new, washed, ironed and attractively packed to sell it at low prices in smaller towns and cities through an efficient network of traders, mostly Muslim.

Salim, a petty trader hesitatingly explained the process: “Our people keep moving around from one city to another as far away as Chennai and Surat to purchase old and used saris from colonies and posh localities. The bargains should be cheap, that is the secret.”

The saris are then transported to these tiny units here and specialised groups carefully sort them out, wash them carefully to remove stains and signs of stress and finally iron them.

“The holes, if any, are rafooed (darned), by carefully taking the threads from the sari. In the process, the sari could at times become slightly shorter in length, especially if torn parts are removed,” said shopkeeper Altaf.

The finished products are usually picked up by another network of Sindhi salesmen who buys them in bulk - packs of 100.

Each stage of transformation - from removing the fall, ironing, washing and removing fibres with a specially designed fork-cutter used by young kids - costs something.

“If a sari has been purchased for Rs.25, add another Rs.25 to its new avatar. The end seller would sell it for Rs.100 either through shops or melas, or schemes like ‘Ek ke badle do’,” says Gaurav, a salesman.

The consumers of such saris are middle and upper class families who gift these saris to their domestic helps or workers.

Around 250 families are engaged in the industry and workers say they involve their children too. They have prospered, as is evident from the facilities they now use, compared to a decade ago.

“Pucca houses, clean roads, drains and street light - the whole area has seen a transformation. Most of it is due to special schemes of the Mayawati government,” Virendra, a social activist of the area, told IANS.

“Also, the area has been developed to attract more tourists to Mehtab Bagh, and the heritage trail that passes through these villages,” he added.

“In our days, second hand saris used to be exchanged for steel utensils, recalled homemaker Padmini,” associated with NGO Nari Evam Bal Vikas Samiti. “But now we have groups offering cash for saris.”

Activist Sunita Dhangar finds nothing wrong in recycling old saris.

“At least the poor can now hope to wear a banarasi or a kanjivaram at affordable rates,” she said. “And who is going to measure the exact length of the sari, if it’s shorter by a few inches or a foot!”

And from the environment point of view, of course, any recycling is a service.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at

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