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The Forlorn Silk Streets of Kancheepuram

The silk saree business in the temple town has been badly affected due to the Model Code of Conduct that came into effect in Tamil Nadu in March. Retail outlets are devoid of customers, and its owners accuse the flying squads of being unnecessarily rude and unreasonable. Sam Augustine reports

The Forlorn Silk Streets of Kancheepuram

Several clothing stores and their parking spaces in Kancheepuram have remained empty for a month

CHENNAI: The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) that has been in place for a month is absolutely necessary for fair and free elections in the State. But silk weavers in Kancheepuram, and the businesses dependent on them, cannot stop lamenting over the unfairness of MCC that has hit their trade hard.

Silk vendors have been urging the Election Commission of India to relax the MCC norms with regard to purchasing silk sarees. Those who want to purchase for weddings are unable to schedule their trip to Kancheepuram due to the MCC.

As per the MCC norms, nobody can carry more than Rs 50,000 cash with them. Since most of the silk businesses are dependent on cash transactions, this adversely affects their revenue.

Kancheepuram is one of the most popular places in the country to purchase silk sarees. People from across the country and abroad visit the temple town every day to purchase silk sarees for weddings and other functions. Most of the time, a silk saree sold for a wedding would cost nothing less than Rs 2 lakh, and the bill can often cross Rs 50 lakh.

Ramanathan of Tambaram, said, “During the last election, my family and I were on our way to Kancheepuram to purchase sarees for my cousin’s wedding. The flying squads intercepted us, and even after showing the wedding cards and other details, officials seized our money.”

Now that the elections are scheduled tomorrow in Tamil Nadu, the flying squads have intensified vehicle checks around the State. People have postponed their weddings, house-warming ceremonies and other functions, and their shopping plans, leaving the roads and lanes in Kancheepuram empty.

Dinesh from Adyar had to postpone the shopping plans for his sister’s wedding that’s scheduled in a month. “We had to postpone our purchase plans since we’ll buy more quantities of sarees to give to all our relatives and friends before the wedding. We’re afraid to carry that much cash and also worry that the flying squads may seize the sarees thinking it was brought as a gift for election purposes,” he stated.

Even the big retail outlets in Kancheepuram are unhappy with the MCC and vent their frustrations over the flying squads’ unreasonable behaviour. “Customers are afraid of the officers of the flying squads because they are unnecessarily rude, and that too only with the poor and common people. They don’t listen to anything our customers say, and just seize the money and tell them to visit the Revenue office later to collect it. We’ve hardly sold any sarees in the last month,” pointed out an owner of a popular retail outlet.

In Tamil Nadu, it’s a tradition to hand-over the cash meant to purchase wedding sarees to the family elder first, receive their blessings and then take back the cash from their hands to start their purchases. So making digital transactions to buy a muhurtham saree is not considered auspicious. Many do not prefer digital transactions for a large sum of money, and even most vendors prefer cash to maintain easier accounting.

KSP Gopinath, a wholesale silk vendor from the district, said: “Our businesses were badly hit by the pandemic. We began recouping our losses in the last 2 years only. And now, with the MCC and elections, we’re badly hit again. Since the MCC would be in effect till June, we have no hope of even breaking even. All our shops are empty without customers. It’s sad to see Kancheepuram like this. We’re helpless.”

Vendors recalled that in 2019 the ECI had relaxed the MCC after the election was over in Tamil Nadu. They have requested the same this time too, as it’s another tradition to buy silk sarees in the Chithirai month in Kancheepuram.

Sam Augustine
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