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From being wrapped around shoulders in the Arab world, the kaffiyeh (Arab scarf) has gone on to make appearances on European fashion ramps and sent out fashion and political statements all over the world. It also keeps the looms of Tanda, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, spinning. Says 40-year old businessman Shakeel Akhtar alias 'Tiger', "Tanda is the only one to stand up to the invasion of cheap Chinese fabric. We are still holding on to our share of world supplies of kaffiyehs."
Here in Tanda in Akbarpur district in UP, which goes to the polls in the first phase on February 8, weaving is the mainstay of many families. Despite a daily load shedding of 10-12 hours, weaving is the prime occupation in Tanda which has approximately 50,000 power looms.
In this small town, upper caste well-off Muslims who control the trade rub shoulders with thread suppliers and Momin Ansaris—one of the 67 Muslim backward castes in UP that are now eligible for reservations for minorities.
As Tanda's residents talk about weaving and reservations, unending lines of girls from the Bunkar (handloom weavers) community of backward Muslims make their way back home from school. Girls in headscarves returning from school may be a common sight in Malappuram in Kerala or Warangal in Andhra, but in UP, it's a new sight.
With weaving no longer considered profitable, not many in the trade want to continue in it. In this media saturated market, Tanda no longer stands in isolation. It has got a whiff of the outside world and it wants more. In fact, it's not Tanda alone. The promise of scholarships, mid-day meals at schools and the assiduous wooing of Muslims for the past 15 years and a sense that there is "no immediate threat" to their lives are all factors that are increasingly making Muslims in the state embrace education.