The artisanal silk industry of West Bengal: A study of its history, performance and current problems

Chandan ROY


Abstract. Artisanal silk industry is a highly labour and land intensive activity ideally suited for economy like India. During medieval period, it was practiced as a dependable livelihood and Moghul Rulers were the patronizers. By 16th Century, commercial production of silk was started in Bengal by Sultan Hussain Shah. From the mid of 17th century, silk trade in India started flourishing since the demand for cheaper Bengal Silk began to rise in the European market. British traders realized that only low price of silk would not be enough to retain their market, and they introduced Piedmontese technology, though it was not suitable for Bengal economy at that point of time. After cessation of monopoly trade right, EEIC started selling off its filatures, thus spelling its gradual decline. After independence, attempts were made to transplant the temperate sericulture technology in the traditional silk producing states of India. West Bengal failed to bring the desired result both in domestic and export front, primary reason being large production of nistari multivoltine, while the export intensive bivoltine silk production is grossly ignored. During 2007-2012, the production of raw silk rose from 1660MT to 1924 MT, but the employment generation showed an enormous decline from 3.03 to 2.71 lakhs. The primary analysis in the Malda district explains that number of man-days generated from different phases of silk-worm rearing activity influences the total income generation of the artisans. On the other hand, cost of machineries and loans taken by household farms have positive effects on income generation of the sericulture farms. The primary analysis also reveals that area of mulberry cultivation, educational background of family head and total man-days creation have an inverse impact on the level of average employment generation in rural sericulture, while rise in household size and numbers of male and female hired labour have positive impact on the level of employment generation in a sericulture family farm. Employment of women generates a superior impact on the nutritional and educational level of the children and this study shows that higher percentage of female members in the household, wage accruals to the hired female workers and family empowerment of female members raise the gender pre-dominance of the sericulture farms.

Keywords. Artisanal silk industry, Income, Employment, Gender labour force.

JEL. J16, N00, O13, P46, R31.

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