Saddam Sekh used to be a floor supervisor at a steamy Indian workshop in Mumbai that produced orders for an exporter working with some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, including Dior and Gucci. Day and night, he would watch as the karigars — an Urdu term for the highly skilled artisans who specialize in handicrafts like embroidery, beading and appliqué — stitched designer gowns destined for the Hollywood red carpet, or ornate samples for runway shows in Milan and Paris.
But when the coronavirus pandemic took hold, their work slammed to a halt, the backbone of the Indian garment supply chain quickly crumbling as millions of migrant laborers scattered across the country. More than a year later — as India races to contain a second wave of the coronavirus, centered in Mumbai, with further lockdowns — many of those employed by the Indian fashion industry are struggling to adjust to a harsh new reality.
“The factory is currently shut because there is no work — it’s a big zero now,” Mr. Sekh said, adding that some of the artisans were working instead as day laborers for 200 to 300 rupees, or $2.50 to $4, per day. One ended up in a biscuit factory, another in plastics and another in farming. Some were calling from their villages, pleading for loans, but the managers and supervisors themselves are in dire financial straits. For now, the factory gates remain locked.
falling short on upholding basic labor rights like fair wages even before the lockdown occurred.
Lakmé Fashion Week in Mumbai. And vaccination efforts have been increasing.
But pandemic-related fears are widespread in a densely populated country with one of the worst death tolls, as is public skepticism — especially among laborers like karigars — about the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 shots offered by the government. Most karigars are Muslim men, an increasingly socially marginalized position as Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to pull the country away from its foundation as a secular, multicultural nation and turn it into a more overtly Hindu state.