Assam’s Eri silk industry fighting a battle for existence

GUWAHATI, January 16: In a battle of survival, Assam’s age-old silk fabric industry- Eri, now faces an enemy that can be regarded as its own clone.

If we take a close look in the Assamese culture, than we would understand that both silk production and weaving are an intrinsic part of the culture. Traditionally, a girl’s weaving skills determined her eligibility for marriage.

If Muga is (often) called the pride of Assam, than Eri is also been called as the “poor man’s silk”. Muga is produced by the Antheraea assama caterpillar. Eri Silk is produced from the worm Samia cynthia ricini, found in North East of India and some parts of China and Japan. One of the common names, the ‘Ailanthus Silk moth’, refers to the host plant. The eri silk worm is the only completely domesticated silkworm other than Bombyx mori.

Eri silk, in the past, was purely handspun and the coarse yarn was used to make shawls and jackets. These shawls and jackets were not only known for their longevity, but also for the warmth that they provides. Today, with the advent of Eri spinning mills, the finer yarn can even be woven into mekhla chadors, saris and other products. Apart from having anti-fungal properties, Eri silk is also a good insulator, and a hardy fabric. Its texture is like cotton, but it is warm like wool.

But…as time has traversed and witness a lot of changes, the ‘poor man’s silk’ today is fighting a battle of survival and protecting itself from complete extinction. Though Eri silk is not as high priced as other silk types, it has found its counter in the form of a cheaper yarn produced in Bihar.

“Assam’s Eri silk as gained popularity and it spread outside the State, a few businessmen with evil intentions began producing a ‘look-alike’ brand of Eri by mixing cheap fibres, fabrics and colours. A majority of this silk is produced in Bihar’s Bhagolpur area,” said Chandan Keshav, a member of an NGO named Muga.

“Eri cloth business is a flourishing business at Kamrup (Rural) Bijoynagar area, but some businessmen in lure of more money, release these duplicate Eri silk and force the weavers to weave cloths from them. As a result of this, the original Eri silk is facing a hard time. It is fighting for its own existence and moreover, the entire silk industry has reached such a stage where threat of survival is lingering over the entire industry,” he further added.

Keshav further said that many traders and weavers of Bijoynagar, Rampur, Jarobari, Haropara etc., are forced to buy these low grade quality Eri silk.

“The clothes prepared from these lack the warmth and longevity of the original Eri silk. They are even the carriers of number of bacteria, spreading a lot of diseases-especially skin diseases. We demand that the import and use of such low grade yarn be stopped immediately. Eri silk is Assam’s traditional heritage. We must protect it,” Keshav added.

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