Thursday December 13, 2018

The dire need to revive the Assamese brass industry

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Born_bronze_-_Bronze_castsDhubri (Assam) : Artisans working for generations to make captivating brass artifacts and utensils are looking towards the government – and have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi – for succor as their vocation is threatened by rising costs and dwindling profits.

Over 300 artisans, involved in the brass industry in Kartimari and Sapatgram villages in Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts respectively, have now sought to attract the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who has launched the “Make in India’ and “Make in the Northeast” initiatives – to revive the industry that is around a century old.

The traditional way of making different things from brass has not only given the villagers an identity but also provided employment opportunities to the youths of the two villages.

The once flourishing village industry has hit such a nadir that many artisans have already shut shop and their young wards have since switched over to other more remunerative professions or simply left for Kerala, Gujarat and neighboring West Bengal to work as manual laborers.

“We have been making brass utensils and artifacts like plates, bowls, cymbals and other items used for daily household work, as well as in marriages and religious functions for generations now. From more than 300 people of over 100 families once dependent on the industry, the number has now come down to less than 50 families. We not only supplied brass items to markets in Assam and West Bengal, but also won awards way back in 1993 and 1994,” artisan Ram Prasad Karmakar, 45, said.

Increasing production cost and shrinking profits forced Karmakar to abandon brass production activity. He is now earning his livelihood by doing contractual work under the state electricity department.

“I will definitely resume production of brass if we get some help from the government,” he said.

The villagers, mostly Hindu Bengalis, collect brass scrap supplied by traders in nearby markets, smelt it in coal-fired ovens and then make attractive items by hand. They forge the brass items with the help of tools they have themselves prepared.

“There is still a huge market for our products in Assam and West Bengal. We require electric machines to melt brass scrap, but it requires a lot of money. We formed a cooperative society a few years ago, but it did not last long due to lack of government support,” Bimal Karmakar, another former metal artisan at Kartimari village in Kokrajhar district, said.

“After we heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi talking about reviving village industries under the ‘Make in India’ campaign, we got an email sent to Modi for help. We even received a confirmation it had been received,” he said.

“If the government provides us financial support and a little help to improve our skills, we can revive the village industry. Young boys who left for Kerala, Gujarat and West Bengal can return and work here again. Many old artisans are very good in designing, but the trade will be lost forever unless something is done,” said Sambhu Karmakar, a brass metal artisan at Sapatgram.

The village industry used to provide jobs to even women as they made the earthen pots used in melting brass scrap or other raw material used for making brass utensils.

Bad shape of the brass industry has not only led to economic hardships for the villagers but also led to other social problems.

“People have migrated to urban areas in search of jobs. They have also begun sending youngsters to work in paddy fields in nearby villages or even outside, which has led to increase in the number of school dropouts here,” Sambhu Karmakar said.

(IANS)

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Tea Body of Assam Slam ‘Chaiwala’ Modi

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said

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Assam tea body slam 'chaiwala' Modi,

The largest tea body of Assam on Sunday slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who often refer to himself as a “chaiwala”, for not being considerate towards the state’s tea garden workers’ plight and urged him to implement the promised minimum wage of Rs 350 before the new year starts.

The Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) General Secretary Rupesh Gowala said while Modi often refers to himself as a “chaiwala”, he is yet make good on his promises towards a million tea garden labourers in the state in the last four years.

“Before the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, Modi addressed several rallies in Assam and assured that the tea garden labourers would be paid a minimum wage of Rs 350 per day,” Gowala said.

“If this happens, the 10,00,000 tea garden labourers will lose Rs 30 each day for two months. Is it a “chaiwala” Prime Minister who is doing this to his own community?” said Gowala.

The tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley in Assam are presently drawing Rs 167 per day while the tea garden workers in Barak Valley are getting Rs 145 per day.

“The existing wage agreement between the Assam government and the ACMS and other tea workers bodies expired on December 31, 2017.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi (Wikimedia Commons)

“The government had announced an interim hike of Rs 30 per day. The tea garden labourers are supposed to get this interim hike from January 1, 2018, but the government is saying the hike will apply from March 1, 2018.

“This would make them lose Rs 30 per day for two months,” he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in Assam is yet to fix that minimum wage, Gowala said, urging Modi to announce the promised Rs 350 per day minimum wage before 2019.

Gowala said the condition of all those tea gardens run by the Assam government was far worse.

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“While the labourers in company-owned garden are receiving a wage of Rs. 167 per day now, the 26,000 workers under the 14 gardens of state-owned Assam Tea Company Limited (ATCL) are receiving a wage of Rs 115 only per day,” he said.

Assam has over 800 medium and large size tea gardens that produces over 50 per cent of the country’s total tea produce.

The tea labourers of Assam live in the most deplorable conditions without some of the basic amenities, Gowala said. (IANS)