Does Bangladesh or India certify Tangail sarees?

Weaving is a crucial part of our cultural heritage. Some traditional styles, like Jamdani, Muslin, and Tangail sarees, have declined. The closure of many looms, the job loss of numerous weavers, and the relocation of weavers to India to resume work are frequently overlooked.

India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry has officially recognised Bangladesh’s famous Tangail saree as a Geographical Indication product. In a post on their verified Facebook page, India’s Ministry of Cultural Affairs mentions that the Tangail saree originates in West Bengal. This piece is a true masterpiece, meticulously crafted using traditional methods and known for its intricate design, wide range of colours, and detailed jamdani patterns. This symbol signifies the deep cultural roots of the area.

The Tangail saree is intricately connected to its distinct landscape or geographical position. Originating from Tangail, this saree accurately represents its cultural heritage. Tangail is a district situated in Bangladesh.

India cannot claim ownership of Tangail sarees under GI. Tangail was never geographically a part of West Bengal. It is possible to obtain GI recognition for their sarees with different names, but using the Tangail name would not be suitable.

What is GI recognition?

Suppose a country’s culture significantly impacts the production of a product in terms of soil, water, and weather. In that case, it is classified as a GI (geographic indication) product of that country. The government passed the Geographical Indication Products (Registration and Protection) Act in 2013.

The Department of Designs, Patents, and Trade Marks (DPDT) has recognised GI products since the Act was enacted in 2015.

The government department offers recognition and certification of products according to World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) standards. There are 21 products, including:.

Jamdani, Hilsa, Rajshahi silk, Bogra curd, Bagda prawns, and Kalijira rice have all been granted GI status recognition.

Recognising the GI of a product is crucial for identification purposes. Products from GI-recognised regions stand out from similar products from other countries. This leads to a varied reception of the product.

History of Tangail Sarees

Weaving has been a fundamental part of the rural economy in this country since ancient times, following agriculture. Ibn Battuta, the famous traveller, includes details about the textiles of Bengal in his travelogue Rihla.

The travelogue mentions that cotton cloth was a key export for Bengal during that period. While travelling from Sonargaon to China on behalf of the Sultan of Delhi, Ibn Battuta encountered Muslim residents from Bengal who traded high-quality cotton cloth in different locations.

Ibn Battuta’s travelogue dates back to the 14th century. It can be inferred that weaving has a long history in this region.

During the British period, protecting Bengal’s tradition of making its clothes faced its first challenge. During that period, machine-made cloth from Lancashire, England, became popular in this area.

Back in 1906, Mahatma Gandhi initiated the boycott of British machine-made cloth, transforming Bengal’s textile industry through the Swadeshi movement. During that period, the weaving industry expanded from Sonargaon and surrounding areas, including Old Dhaka, to Tangail and various other locations.

India’s claim over Tangail Sari has sparked criticism, leading to questions about Bangladesh’s response. The Bangladesh government’s failure is now becoming apparent. Some believe that the demand for Tangail Saree, a traditional Bengali textile, was lost in Bangladesh due to the negligence, indifference, and irresponsibility of the relevant ministries and authorities.

The weavers of the Hindu community have a long-standing connection to the production of Tangail sarees. Subsequently, Muslims also became part of this industry. The Basak community of Hindus in the Patrail Union of Tangail has made a significant contribution.

Weaving woes and migration of weavers

A research paper by three researchers, published in the Journal of Research on Humanities and Social Sciences in 2014, highlights why Hindu weavers leave the country. These reasons include the fear of communal violence, rising costs of raw materials, a lack of government credit, transportation challenges, and business security concerns. Consider moving to India.

Following the partition and liberation war in 1971, a significant wave of migration occurred after Bangladesh’s independence. You can find a sample of this in the research paper. For instance, there were 3,200 Hindu weaving families in Nalashodha village of Pathrail after independence, but within a few decades, only 22 families remained.

The expansion of the tangail saree weaving industry in the country was significantly influenced by the different facilities and credit support provided by the Government of India. Hindu weavers were drawn to go to that country for this reason.

The media has reported that numerous weaving units in Tangail have shut down over the past two-and-a-half decades.

The reports highlight recurring issues such as increasing raw material costs, capital shortages, lower-than-expected sales, and a lack of demand in the market. Additionally, they point out the government’s inaction in revitalising the industry.

The weaver community in Tangail faced frequent shortages. The famine of the fifties, especially for Khan, was quite a shock. During President Sattar’s time in the 1980s, weavers had sarees in their homes but needed rice. Amid challenges, a significant number of weavers gradually relocated to India. Several weavers departed because of conflicts within the community.

The weavers in West Bengal receive yarn, loans, and support from the government. They also referred to their sarees as Tangail sarees, purchased by various government agencies. There has consistently been a need for more government support and patronage for the weavers in this area. Currently, over 60 percent of the weavers in Tangail are from the Muslim community.

Even though the weavers moved to West Bengal, most of their descendants did not continue that work. Many individuals have transitioned to higher-level careers like engineers, doctors, or teachers, thanks to educational advancements. In West Bengal, no one from the Basak community weaves Tangail sarees in that sense. Some weavers are now creating Tangail sarees based on local traditions.

Every week, trucks transport Tangail sarees from Bangladesh to West Bengal. According to a 2014 research paper, India receives 50 thousand sarees weekly.

How reasonable is India’s demand?

As per GI Journal No. 178 of the Government of India, it is noted that the Tangail saree of Bengal (West Bengal) did not originate from the Tangail of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). This design is a combination of Shantipur and Dhaka-Tangail styles.

Will India be able to identify that saree as a Tangail saree? Recently, a family member travelled to America and began producing sarees. Could it be Tangail’s sari? The sari might have a different name, but it is not a Tangail sari. ‘If the Rohingyas are unable to return to their country, could we potentially adopt any of their traditions as our own in the future?’

India recently asserted ownership of Nakshikantha, Jamdani, and Fazli mangoes after they received GI recognition in Bangladesh. The issues arise due to the historical territory-sharing between Bangladesh and India.

Due to the long-standing geographical proximity of Bangladesh and India, there has been a significant cultural exchange between the two nations. It can be confusing to determine the origin of certain subjects. Then, the issues must be addressed through a study of history. Recognising GI products is no different. These items are referred to as homonymous GIs. Both countries have the right to claim GI rights for such products. If there is any misleading information or consumer confusion in the market regarding a product, multiple countries cannot claim it.

The products or traditions from various regions of the country are equally valuable. Only 11 products have received GI recognition in the past ten years. In 2023, a total of 10 products received approval within a single year. Jamdani was the first GI product registered in the country. The Jamdani saree and hilsa were almost lost. India’s ‘Jamdani’ was on the verge of receiving GI recognition. Later on, the Jamdani was acknowledged as ‘Upadha Jamdani’.

Since Tangail is a district in Bangladesh, the individual mentioned that there is no location in India with the same name. Granting GI recognition to a product named after a region of another country goes against international law.

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