Kanpur: The Kanpur city used to be home to India’s biggest textile and leather industries, but the BJP-led government’s policies are are slowly killing what is left of the leather industry in the city. It also used to be one of the major industrial and employment hubs in India. But in the past few years, the city has been undergoing rather unfavourable transformation.
At the iconic Thaggu Ke Laddoo shop in the heart of Kanpur, as the customers talk among themselves about the way their lives have changed under the incumbent government, it becomes apparent that they no longer have faith in the lawmakers irrespective of their party affiliations.
In the past four months, Firoz Ahmad, 49, has developed a habit of waking up late, and then going to the closed tannery to play cards with the other tannery owners. They do not have much else to pass their time.
Ahmad, the owner of ‘Ahmad and Sons tanners’ in Amrud Bazaar, says that he is running through his savings since the tanneries remain closed, and the government seems to be intending to shut the Muslim-dominated leather industry permanently.
“Jajmau, until two years ago, was home to more than 400 tanneries – both big and small-scale. But now, only 206 are operational due to the policies of the government. Do you not think that these policies are affecting the lives of residents of Kanpur and other areas from where people used to come here in search of jobs?” asks Ahmad.
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The long-bearded tannery owner further says, “The tannery owners of Kanpur voted for the development irrespective of what ideologies they believe in, but the tannery owners have been left disappointed by the right-wing government.”
“The government and the officers might be believing that Kanpur leather industry was slaughtering cows for leather. Let us please make it clear that the leather industry of Kanpur is dependent on buffaloes for hives and not cows. We are into this business since the pre-Independence, and this is the first time that tanneries have faced such a long ban,” says the disappointed tannery owner.
Ahmad says, “Ye ek audyogik nagari thi aur ab ye ek qabristan hai (This was an industrial town once, but it has now turned into a graveyard).”
Ahmad also opines that the tannery owners are paying this cost, mainly because the industry is dominated by Muslims. “The government should remember that lakhs of people from other communities, including Hindu, are also dependent on this industry.”
Firoz also points to the fact that upper caste people have stayed away from this industry. “Chamaar* aur Musalman kaam karta hai to upar ki jaat ke log kaam kyu karenge aur upar ki jaat ke log ye kaam bhi nahi kar sakte hain kyuki aaj tak unhone ye kaam kiya hi nahi hai. (When chamaars* and Muslims are working in the industry, why would the upper caste people work there? They won’t be able to do it as well, because they have never done it),” he says.
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Kshitiz Trivedi, one of the stakeholders in the Triveni Tanners, which falls under the Unnao district jurisdiction, vents his anger over the closure of the tanneries. He says that the labourers have migrated to other places, and the machines are turning defunct.
“We all have debts on our heads. We are now not in a position to pay our labourers. And even the machines and the washers have started developing snags. The industry is totally dead now and no one wants to take a step to revive this. Before Kumbh, it was the slaughter ban – which had nothing do with our industry – and then came the shifting of the industries, and now the Kumbh. The Kumbh is now over, but our industries are shut since November 18 last,” says Trivedi, adding that suppliers of raw material are also reeling under losses. “The leather market has become unreliable, and the loyal buyers from USA, Australia and other nations, too, have stopped buying products from India.”
A senior official from the Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam, on the condition of anonymity, said that the government may lift the closure order post elections. But as of now, nothing has been decided, s/he said.
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