Demonetisation and industrial woes

Zardozi craftsmen’s livelihood hangs by a thread

A narrow lane with an open drain running alongside leads to Mohammad Rafiq’s modest dwelling in Lucknow’s Mehndiganj neighbourhood.

It is mid-afternoon and the windows of the cramped and dingy home-based workshop have been flung open to allow the sunlight in.

Almost everyone of his eight-member family, including his wife, sister and daughter, are kneeling around an adda (wooden frame), deftly working the muthiya, a crochet-like needle, crafting intricate zardozi designs on the fabric spread on it. The zardozi craft is the family’s main source of income.

The demonetisation announced on November 8 has hit Mr. Rafiq hard. While on the one hand orders for his work have drastically reduced, on the other, contractors and traders who buy his produce refuse to pay him in new notes.

Out of desperation, he is forced to accept the old Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes as payment. His daughter’s wedding on December 28 has brought added pressure.

“The contractors and traders say take it or leave it. They have found an easy dumping place in us. What choice do I have? We are not getting assignments anyway,” Mr. Rafiq rued.

Hours outside banks

Accepting old notes means he needs to spend hours outside banks. “If I receive the cash one day, I spend the other in trying to deposit it, meaning loss of more work. But I have to do it to survive.”

Zardozi is a fine style of hand embroidery traditionally done with gold and silver threads. It is popular in India, Pakistan and Iran and used to embellish the attire of the royalty in the past. Today it is part of high fashion.

According to estimates, around 3-5 lakh persons, mostly Muslims, work in the zardozi craft in and around Lucknow.

Though Lucknowi zardozi products are celebrated and highly priced in the market, its creators, working from homes in unhygienic conditions or employed in workshops, eke out a dismal existence.

As workshop owners are unable to pay cash, many karigars (workers) have either been rendered jobless or have been forced to work with reduced pay. Most of them have no bank accounts also.

Abdul Aziz, 49, who works at a large workshop in the Lakkadmandi locality, was supposed to be paid Rs. 1,600 as weekly wages. However, he has had to settle for much less, around Rs. 600-Rs. 700, as his employer is unable to pay him the full amount.

“How can I blame him? If he himself does not have enough cash how will he pay me? What we receive is enough to survive but I don’t know what the future holds,” said Mr. Aziz.

Workshops shut

Workshop owners, who have to pay rent and also purchase raw material, said they are finding it difficult to sustain themselves. Scores of workshops have shut since November 8.

In Millat Nagar colony, Mohammad Raees’ workshop is one of the few that is still operative. But his workforce has fallen drastically — from 12 to four.

“Most of the workers have stopped coming. Some are driving e-rickshaws or selling vegetables,” said Mr. Raees.

One such worker is Afaq, who has found a viable alternative in driving e-rickshaws. It not only provides him a decent income but has also brought him out of the dingy rooms where he was employed.

While home-based workshops are either shutting down or fighting for survival, the situation is no better in large workshops. According to Shoaib Khan, a major manufacturer, the cash limit of Rs. 50,000 has “ruined the entire system of payment.”

Mr. Khan’s workforce of 300 has been reduced to a third. “I need to make a payment of Rs. 3 lakh. But the government has only offered me a relief of Rs. 50,000. How will I pay all the workers and also arrange raw material with this amount? If the relief is not increased, even these 100 people will stop coming,” Mr. Khan said.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 5:53:11 PM |

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