Suleiman Mohammad (50) is fashioning clay bowls for serving phirni at Ramzan iftars. The demand for such bowls spikes during Ramzan, which begins from April 25. This year, however, the uptake of these eco-friendly bowls is unlikely due to the nationwide lockdown.
For Suleiman’s small pottery business in Dharavi’s Kumbharwada area, this used to be a time of brisk sales. “Diwali and Ramzan are major periods of business. We sell 15-20 lakh phirni bowls every year, but this year our market itself is closed. Monsoon will start soon, after which we won’t be able to work anyway.”
Kumbharwada, the century-old pottery hub of Asia’s largest slum Dharavi, whose residents mostly hail from Gujarat, has closed its gates for outsiders since the lockdown started; but in its narrow lanes the potter’s wheels are still turning. Yousuf Gulwani (38), whose firm handles corporate orders for pottery, says, “The clay is lying around, some have pending orders but there is no transport. Potters are not used to sitting idle. In any case, next batch of clay (sourced from Gujarat or Bhiwandi) is unlikely to reach us for two months at least.”
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his address to the nation on April 14, spoke of a conditional resumption of production in big industries from April 20, there is no word on exemptions for micro and small businesses like the potters in Dharavi, for whom the extended lockdown may sound a death knell. “We have borrowed money from private lenders. While the Centre has frozen instalments for bank loans, what about us,” wondered Gulwani.
Dharavi is also one of the hotspots of the infection, with 60 cases and eight deaths at last count, which could mean relaxations may not come any time soon. T D Rajamani Nadar, a snack wholesaler and secretary of Dharavi Anna Padartha Utpadak Unnati Sangh, says, “This is a very bad time for small scale units. We haven’t received any orders for more than a month now. Our manufacturing units will shut down if the government doesn’t help.”
The leather industry in Dharavi that supplies to big brands world-wide is also completely shut. Deepak Kale (57), member of the Leather Goods Manufacturing Association, said, “I see no revival for the next two-three years. First it was demonetisation, then GST and now coronavirus. The 8,000 leather units in Dharavi are bracing for an uncertain future.”
Ten kilometres away at Zaveri Bazar, the hub of goldsmiths employing 20,000-30,000 artisans, Shafiullah Halder (40), who works as a goldsmith, is also anxious about his future. “The business has been bad for the last few years. Allah knows if things will improve even after the lockdown is lifted.”
At neighbouring Kalbadevi, one of the biggest garment hubs in Mumbai, Rajesh Shah (37), who owns a wholesale garment shop, is worried about meeting overheads. “The earnings are zero right now but I will have to continue paying rent for my shop, pay salaries to my staff.”
The pandemic has seen consumer demand hit rock bottom. Shah does not think it will revive itself any time soon. “E-commerce had anyway reduced footfalls and now we don’t even know if people will come even after the lockdown is lifted.”
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