The small village of Patwatoli, which is also known as the Manchester of Bihar because of its booming power loom industry, is now faced with a rather morbid task of producing shrouds or ‘kafan’ as the COVID-19 pandemic had led to high number of deaths in the state. This village of weavers has more than 10,000 power looms. The business had been adversely affected during the pandemic, but the demand has shot up considerably for shrouds to wrap bodies of COVID-19 victims. The weavers are now working day and night to meet the massive demand.
“Hum log kafan banate hai sir, Bihar, MP, Bengal sab jagah jata hai kafan…abhi bimari ke chalte demand bahut badh gaya hai. (We make shrouds, which are sent across Bihar, MP, Bengal…the demand has shot up amid the pandemic),” said Dwarika Prasad, a manager of one of the looms.
Such is the demand that most power looms are working 24/7, in all 3 shifts with no break for their workers and still they are not able to meet the demand. These power looms generally weave gamchhas, bed sheets and lungis. Currently, they cater to the markets of like Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, and other North Eastern States. Though it's a boom for the business of these power loom owners but it hardly brings smile on their faces. Chandan, a loom worker, says, “Paisa toh mil raha hai sir, par log mar rahe hai… Bahut galat hai sir. (We are making money, but people are dying….this is really wrong).”
Earlier, on an average, they would get an order of 7 to 10 kafans and pitambaris per day, which has now shot up to over 60,000 to 70,000. A steep rise in the demand is, however, helping sustain the economy of this village.
Patwatoli, located on the outskirts of Gaya in Bihar, hogs limelight every year immediately after the IIT results are declared. This little village has one of the highest numbers of IITians in the country. Every year, 5 to 10 kids from Patwatoli crack IIT JEE exams and make it to the leading engineering colleges across the country. This hamlet is known as a factory of IITians. This village of weavers has more than 250 IITians, almost one in the each household, majority of them serving in multinationals while the parents back home continue with the traditional business of running power looms.
During this time, when orders for all other clothing materials had gone south, these kafans are helping them sustain.