Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh is known for its brass utensils. The lanes here used to be abuzz with activity during summers. Now, the lockdown has caused a livelihood crisis for its 25-30,000 workers
Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh
It was 1:30 in the afternoon. In the scorching sun, 10 to 15 people were sitting by the shade of a wall in a narrow lane. Some people were in a house that was across the street. Smoke was coming out of the furnace and it was stuffy inside the house. Many round iron handles were lying about gathering dust. These handles are used to shape brass utensils … handi, parat, batua and hunda (pots and pans). There was a thick layer of dust covering the brass utensils placed in the other room.
This house was situated in one of the many narrow lanes in an area called Pukka Sarai in Mirzapur district, about 250 kms away from Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow. This brass-utensil manufacturing area used to be abuzz with activity during summers, but the lockdown has created a livelihood crisis for 25-30,000 people associated with the work.
The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have pushed the brass business of Mirzapur, which was already battling for its existence, to closure.
“Our situation is so bad that we don’t have the money to eat,” said brass artisan Makkhan Singh. He added: “Not many people use brass utensils now. We used to earn a little in April, May and June thanks to the wedding season. These earnings would last us for a year. But the current lockdown has ruined us.”
Brass utensils hold a great significance during wedding ceremonies in the Purvanchal region of Uttar Pradesh. But this year, due to coronavirus outbreak, the weddings have been called off and so no one is buying these brass utensils. Brass is also called the gold of the poor.
“This is my ancestral trade so I can’t even drop it. At first, my grandfather used to do it, and then I learnt it from my father. I know nothing else,” said an upset Makkhan Singh. About 50 people of his family are into making brass utensils.
He added: “We are basically from Lahore. Our ancestors came here only after the partition. People all over the region know us as brass artisans, but now it seems we may not be able to preserve our identity.”
He explained: “The demand for brass utensils is gradually decreasing in the markets. The prices of raw materials used in making brass utensils went up in 2017 after GST (Goods and Services Tax) was introduced. Traders had long been demanding the removal of GST on raw materials. Now, this lockdown is a big blow.”
“Earlier, all the people in my locality used to do this work. But then the GST caused a lot of damage. We face a shortage of raw materials. We are suffering due to the lockdown. Now, only some government intervention can save us,” he said.
The artisans who make brass in Mirzapur are unorganised, so is the entire industry. Aniruddh Kumar Gupta, one of the big traders in the city, said that being unorganised is a curse for this business.
He said: “This was our only season of income. We had no one listening to us before, nor now. My father used to do this work, but my children would not. People have been in this trade from 500 years. The government has said that they will be promoting small industries, but we know that we won’t get any benefits. It will take one to two years to recover the loss that we have suffered now.”
In 2016, the business was included in the cluster development programme by the central government. For this, about Rs 13 crore were approved in the budget, but as per the 2018 research report by Rajeev Ranjan and Dr RK Srivastri, the annual brassware turnover of Mirzapur exceeds Rs 500 crore and 25-30,000 people are directly or indirectly involved in this business. Although this trade primarily involves small houses, a GST of 18% on its raw material and the lack of proper power supply is killing the industry.
As per the government, there are currently 300 units of brass in Mirzapur. Brass artisan Charan Singh said: “People are being helped during the lockdown, but nothing is done to help us out. I learned this work from my father and grandfather. There is nothing else that I can do. Before the lockdown, we used to earn Rs 400-500 per day. Now, everything is closed.”
Yes, there was an eerie silence in the market.