Hide supply hit, Kanpur tanneries face closure
In the past one and a half years, the Hide Merchants Association (HMA) here has seen nearly 200 members quit to open other businesses, leaving only 300 traders on the rolls. Most of them have opened readymade garment shops, taking a cue from the market next door, and turned godowns into small shops. The tanneries that source the hide from them too are feeling the heat. Among the 402 registered ones in Kanpur, around 300 are part of the Small Tanners’ Association. The remaining are split evenly between the UP Leather Association and the Jajmau Tanners Association.
“We are down to 40 per cent of our work. We never know when our tannery will be closed. There are few international orders. Every tannery owner has reduced his staff, with minimum workers now on rolls. We are even giving two-day weekends to cut down expenses,” says Hafizurrahman, president of the Small Tanners’ Association. The animal hide market in these narrow bylanes of Old Kanpur has been around for at least a century. The buildings housing most of the trading firms are crumbling, affected ironically by the salt that has to be used in large amounts to preserve the animal skins. While the firms are run by mostly Muslims, Hindus especially Dalits largely make up the labour force, including the tanners.
After Pech Bagh, the largest animal hide market in Uttar Pradesh is in Hapur, located not too far from Dadri where the lynching over alleged beef occurred. In Hapur, the situation is no different. “After the Dadri incident, we are terrified. The market is now just half its earlier trade. Earlier we had a two-day market, Saturday and Sunday, now we sit idle for at least a day,” Mohammad Arshad, a hide trader in Hapur market, says. The total annual turnover of the leather tanning and finished goods industry in Kanpur, including shoes and accessories, is nearly Rs 6,000 crore. That puts the city in the second position in leather tanning in the country, as per the UP Leather Association. Tamil Nadu, with its major centre being Chennai, ranks first. Hazi Afzal Ahmed, president of the HMA, blames the fall in the animal skin supply to “the frenzy built in the name of cow slaughter”. “We are facing a hard time since Narendra Modi took charge. Various groups resort to violence, beating up persons engaged in skinning. Police too target them,” Ahmed says. Last month saw at least two instances in Uttar Pradesh of people being beaten up after they were caught with animal skin, suspected to be of cow.
Kanpur MLA Irfan Solanki, who belongs to the Samajwadi Party, says he himself has a leather tannery business and is aware of the problems faced by traders. “They (the Modi government) have created such an atmosphere that people don’t want to skin dead animals. They get only Rs 500, why should they risk their lives? There is little that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav can do in this matter,” he says. In Uttar Pradesh, the contract for skinning dead animals is given by civic bodies and panchayats, and is done mostly by Dalits. After collecting the hide, they salt it and sell it along to a stockist, who brings the same in trucks to Pech Bagh market, where the skin is bought by tannery owners.
“The skinners and transporters are refusing to do this now, fearful of attacks,” says Abdul Haq, vice-president, HMA. “When my grandfather bought this ahata (open space) in 1888, there was a thriving hide market here. In few more years, you will not find anyone left.” On good days, others say, trucks with hide would come from as far as Meghalaya and Kerala.
Prices too have gone down. The Small Tanneries Association says buyers are not approaching them anymore saying their shops could be raided any day. A year ago, one truck-load of hide would fetch Rs 15 lakh; now it goes for Rs 7-8 lakh. “One hide priced at Rs 1,500-Rs 1,600 is now available for Rs 700-800. The business is almost finished,” says Ashraf Kamal, general secretary, HMA.
“I have faced two setbacks from the Modi government, ruining my leather business. One is the Namami Ganga Project that targeted our tanneries blaming them for the Ganga pollution and another is the controversy over Govansh (progeny of cow),” says Kaushlesh Chandra Dixit, the owner of Triveni Tanners.
Raja Singh Yadav, the owner of Raja Tanners, points out that many Hindus like him are in the profession and that others too are interested in joining it, but the fear of a backlash is too strong. “We are vyapari (businessmen) but the government has created this atmosphere where we are facing a crisis… I tried to meet our local MP Murli Manohar Joshi, but there is no address of him in Kanpur. The issue of Ganga and the cow will end our business.”