Following demonetisation, eight of the 12 major factories in Khurja, UP, that produce classic ceramic works were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)
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No Notes, No Votes: Khurja’s Ceramic Workers Don’t Want BJP to Win

Following demonetisation, eight of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry in western Uttar Pradesh, where 73 assembly constituencies are going to the polls on 11 February, were shut down.

The move has adversely impacted the lives of 60 percent of the total workforce, leaving the workers of this unorganised sector industry reeling in the face of unemployment.

Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprising and sudden note ban move has brought down production by 50 percent, several ceramic store owners in Khurja told The Quint. Labourers and some ceramic works store owners are upset with the decision, which might affect the BJP’s prospects in Khurja in Bulandshahr.

As we drove into town, down the main road, either side of which are lined with stores displaying exquisite products – plates, cups, saucers, flower pots and other home decor items – six men were soaking in the sun. However, the shops with beautiful pots and cups had no customers. Till recently a bustling warren of stores and factories, Khurja’s pottery and ceramic industry hasn’t been the same since demonetisation.

The seats in this assembly constituency are won not simply on the basis of castes, but sub-castes and gotras (lineage) also define politics here. The labourers involved in the ceramic and pottery factories that dot this part of Bulandshahr are mostly Muslims, who have over the years, only skilled themselves in one kind of workmanship.



Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)
Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)
The ban has brought our business to a standstill. Raw materials have stopped coming in. Factory owners are unable to pay their workers. 
Safiq Thekedar, a Labour Contractor

Small factories and households continue producing a few products with the available raw material. Even though sellers continued selling the products they had in stock, “poor internet connectivity in the area didn’t allow them to go digital or set up PoS machines”, said Faiz, a shop owner.

While factory owners have handled the impact of demonetisation adroitly, the labourers have been left in the lurch. Demonetisation has had a chain reaction of sorts among labourers involved in the complex chain involving manufacture of ceramic products.

This time, the prospects of a clear majority for one party seems to be bleak. People pretend to be happy, but the truth is they are not. They are very angry (with the BJP).
Mushtaqi, a salesperson.

Many cart-pullers were employed in the area to carry products from factories to shops.

Our work has been shut entirely. We just spend our time sitting here. There is no work as so many factories have shut down. We will start getting some work only if they start supplying products.
Umeed Hasan, a cart-puller

Some regular buyers, however, continue to visit the shops. Kamal Sahani, a customer who visits Khurja every month, said that he didn’t face any problem buying items. “The size of the items has gone down and the sellers are still dealing in cash,” he adds.



Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)
Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)

The BJP has not been popular among the locals for a long time, while the BSP and the Congress have fielded the right candidates to woo the upper and lower class votes. In 2007 and 2002, it was the Brahmin candidates who came to power. But in 2012, the Congress' SC candidate, Banshi Singh, beat the BSP with a formidable margin of 37,304 votes marking a clear shift in the voting pattern.



Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)
Following demonetisation, eight out of the 12 major factories of Khurja’s ceramic industry were shut down. (Photo: The Quint/Abhilash Mallick)

It is during Diwali and post-Diwali wedding season when people buy a large number of pottery items. However, because of demonetisation, people were more concerned about buying basic necessities like ration than decorative items. The sellers also pointed out that by the time the situation normalises, the demand will be over.

Additionally, factories and most homes in the town have private generators and water pumps, but a huge number of people in villages, only a few kilometres away in the same constituency, remain in poverty.

Consequently, demonetisation will be a deciding factor in the upcoming elections where the Congress-SP coalition is likely to have an upper hand, given the high population of labourers in the area.