Vijayapura: It has been seven years since he left the job but most people in Vijayapura still remember Syed Hussain, 70, as one of the best silk reelers in town.

When Hussain started working as a reeler in 1975, there were around 400-500 people doing the same job in this town in Bengaluru’s rural district. Vijayapura was a small town then, says Hussain, but as locals saw the silk reeling and weaving market boom, many took up this job. In fact, many people migrated from different regions, more so after the setting up of a cocoon market. “It was hard work but the returns we got were good enough. We all had good lives," says Hussain.

Hussain had moved to Vijayapura after marrying a woman whose family was in silk reeling—the first stage in a process of silk making that later involves twisting and weaving.

Before moving to Vijayapura, Hussain was a fruit seller for 10 years. Silk reeling was an established business for him and something he knew would help him and his family live a decent life. “We used to produce 4-5kg of silk every day. Per week, we sent a bundle of 30kg to the market," says Hussain. He had his own unit and employed four people. “For every kilogram of silk we reeled, we got a profit of 50. For every 4kg, we had a profit of 200," he says. Hussain saved enough to build a house and get his son and three daughters married. He earned 5,000-6,000 per month in the early 1990s.

After liberalization, imports of raw silk from China started steadily increasing. From 4,713 metric tonnes in 2000-01, imports rose to 9,258 metric tonnes in 2003-04, according to the ministry of textiles. The price of imported silk in India plummeted nearly 45% from $24.50 per kg in May 2001 to $13.50 per kg in June 2003.

Before 2000, in this small town, there were around 1,500 reelers like Hussain; but then, things changed drastically. “The Chinese silk market opened up and demand for our silk came down. People didn’t want our silk. Chinese quality was good perhaps, and they produced more," he says. “Initially, China silk was imported but had tax imposed on it…that way our business was also doing well; but then, when the tax was removed, we went into complete losses," he says.

Today, there are only around 400 reelers in this town. Hussain is among the 70% of silk reelers of Vijayapura who have left this job. Those who continue reeling have no other skill for any other job, says Hussain, who started a small departmental store with a loan of 5.5 lakh in 1993. He paid up with interest in 2005, closing it at 8.5 lakh. “I never thought it would be so bad that we would have to leave this job," says Hussain. “No matter how much it hurt to leave this, I had to."

This is the third part in a series marking the 25th anniversary of India’s liberalization.

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