50 Days of Demonetisation: East Delhi’s army of tailors hit hard

One Rupee for putting buttons on five pairs of jeans is what contractors paid women and children. But even this paltry source of income has dried up in New Jafrabad, in the national capital

Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Abid Shah

Mohammed Shamim, better known as Manager by virtue of his being an all-weather friend and one-point solution for the locality’s poor workers laments, “hundreds of karkhanas (or tailoring yards) in Janata Colony and neighbouring localities like Welcome, Ghonda and Jafrabad have been shut.”

For days scores of idle men, women and children in Janata Mazdoor Colony in north-east Delhi’s New Jafrabad have anxiously been waiting for this day of December 30 because it is the deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for replacing old currency notes with newly minted money. They hope the New Year will bring an end to their misery.

The locality usually bustles with a large migrant labour force from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. But since November 8, most of them have had either no work or paid no money. Contractors bringing work for tailoring, stitching and sewing jeans, trousers and jackets to the poor workers, who are mostly Muslims and Dalits have been few in November and even fewer this month.

The locality usually bustles with a large migrant labour force from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh. But since November 8, most of them have had either no work or paid no money. Contractors bringing work for tailoring, stitching and sewing jeans, trousers and jackets to the poor workers, who are mostly Muslims and Dalits have been few in November and even fewer this month.

The garment trade with nearby Gandhinagar Market being its hub has declined sharply in what should have been the peak season. A jeans trouser normally fetching ₹250 is being sold at ₹150 in bulk trade. Workers are fleeing and eateries feeding them are shutting down, leaving little hope for an early end to the crisis brought by “Notebandi.”

The virtual army of tailors working day and night in Jafrabad area before November 8 brought work to others too. Contractors outsourced tasks like putting buttons and cutting rough edges of freshly tailored jackets and trousers to women and children of the area.

Putting buttons on five pairs of trousers brought ₹1 to them and a similar amount for twice the number of wears for cutting stray threads from rough edges that look freaky but not frayed as they are new. Since volume of work used to be substantial women and children worked overtime to add to the family’s income. Demonetisation has robbed them of this as there is now hardly any work to do.

The garment trade with nearby Gandhinagar Market being its hub has declined sharply in what should have been the peak season. A jeans trouser normally fetching Rs 250 is being sold at Rs 150 in bulk trade. Workers are fleeing and eateries feeding them are shutting down, leaving little hope for an early end to the crisis brought by “Notebandi.”

Strangely or not so strangely, women and children have been hit more badly than men, points out Jitendra Singh who helps his wife in running an informal school for training poor children in Janata Mazdoor Colony for entering formal Government run schools. He says that the number of children turning up at his wife’s learning centre have declined through the days of demonetisation.

Singh adds that about two-third of the inhabitants of the colony don’t have bank accounts. Yet, all of them are now looking to banks to release money not to them but to their contractors who brought work to them for howsoever measly a sum.

Shamim says that often workers joined the long queues at the banks at the behest of contractors with old currency notes as there was no other way for workers to realize the wages for work already done by November 8.

“The wages they received did not last long. And the work was not coming any more. Thus, there have been cases where workers have had to sell valuables like little gold and silver ornaments that their wives had or their other belongings like old bikes to make end meets. After 50 days everyone now is thinking about what happens next,” says Shamim.

Abid Shah is an independent researcher and journalist based in Delhi


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Published: 30 Dec 2016, 12:13 PM