Video editor: Prashant Chauhan
The district of Mirzapur in east UP became a household name due to the eponymous superhit web series starring Pankaj Tripathi as Kaleen Bhaiya. Amidst the crime drama, you saw the characters engaged in Mirzapur's age-old cottage industry - the carpet or kaleen trade. But what about Mirzapur's actual Kaleen Bhaiyas, and their woes this election season?
With their trade facing a massive downturn, the proverbial carpet has been pulled out from under the feet of Mirzapur's carpet artisans.
Another traditional industry which Mirzapur is reputed for — brassware — is also losing its shine.
"The carpet industry in Mirzapur mostly employs Muslims, while the brass industry here primarily engages Hindus. And both the industries are on the decline," says Ehsan Ali, a carpet artisan in Mirzapur.
Woes of Mirzapur's Real Kaleen Bhaiyas
"Carpet-makers from Iran brought the work to Mirzapur, centuries ago. At its peak, every other house in Mirzapur was engaged in the work of making and selling carpets," says Ali Mohammed, a veteran carpet artisan from Imlaha, the locality that houses several of the city's carpet handlooms.
Shakeel Ahmed, who left carpet work some years ago, adds, "But as the machines took over the traditional work of hand, the cost of production rose and the reduced compensation made the artisans leave the industry."
Labourers Drifting Away From Carpet-Making
As the business of carpets became increasingly unfeasible, its workers forced to look for other occupations. In a bleak job market, that often meant either unemployment or settling for odd jobs and a far lower income.
"When I worked in the carpet industry, I would earn up to Rs 800 a day. Now I have to take up any odd jobs I get, be it furniture work, painting, etc," said 32-year-old Saheb Alam, a former carpet worker. He adds, "Now, my earnings have reduced to around Rs 250 a day."
Brassware Losing Its Shine
Why is the brass utensils industry in Mirzapur facing a similar decline, we ask those who are still working in the trade there.
"Mirzapur is known for its brassware. But in the past years, the rising cost of brass has brought about a big downturn in the industry," says Krishna Kumar, a brassware seller.
"Brassware is no match for steel utensils now," remarks Lalit Prasad, who works on brass platters in Kasratti, the locality that mostly houses brass workers.
"The absence of any industrial area for brass has adversely affected the business. The workforce has come down drastically now."Vikas Verma, brassware seller
Forced Towards Other Work
Like their counterparts in the kaleen trade, the downsizing in Mirzapur's brassware industry has left many people without work.
"I only know how to make brass platters. What other work would I do? I had thought of trying to become an e-rickshaw driver," says Lalit Prasad.
"Our lives have been disrupted due to the downturn of the industry. There just isn't enough work round the year," laments 35-year-old Ajay Verma, who had to leave the brass industry. "How do we survive without regular income? We had to look for other work to sustain our livelihood. Now, I have taken up cooking to earn a living."
Widespread Unemployment and Underemployment
The decline of both of Mirzapur's traditional industries and a dearth of job opportunities in other avenues has caused large scale unemployment, as well as underemployment.
"I lost my job as a garments salesman a year ago. I tried to find a new job for 11 months, but in vain. Then, from last month, I began to sell fruits from a cart, in order to earn something" says Himanshu Rathore, who was sacked from his job amidst the pandemic.
Anwar Ali, a tailor, who too lost his job and is now unemployed for a year, says, "The place I worked for shut down during the pandemic. And ever since, I have been trying to find work but I can't find any."
"There are no jobs here. If Mirzapur had proper industries, then youngsters like me could get some work. If the government can get some factories set up here, then many jobless people would get employment," remarks Rathore.