In business for the last four decades, the Rajput Lohars of west Delhi have for the first time realised what it means to be in the midst of a slowdown. Their businesses are yet to recover from the demonetisation shock. “This is the first time in the last 40 years that we have been waiting for a buyer before we can fix the next meal. We have never been in loss and we can’t move to any other business because working iron is the only craft we have mastered since the age of 12,” Jeet Kumar, an ironsmith from Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh, says, exactly three months after demonetisation was announced.
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Earthen hearths and anvils in the row of vacant-looking shops selling hammers, pick-axes, tongs, woks, sickles, pans, knives and an array of tools and parts line the pavements of Pankha road off the Tihar Jail complex. With no customers, owners stay indoors tending to family and preparing lunch.
Till late last month, they were surviving on rotis and tomato chutney. This is because November and December saw everyone queuing up outside banks and forcing shops to stay shut, the ironsmiths said.
“We fear our business will never go back to the way it was. We are almost distress-selling. Our customers, most of whom are labourers or factory workers, just don’t come. Hammers and narrow chisels, which used to be essentials, are being bought with frugal care,” Priya, Jeet’s relative, says after haggling with Virender Singh, the first customer at her shop this Wednesday.
She ends up selling a hammer head for Rs 70, Rs 20 less than they would have sold it for to the most stubborn customer.
Virender Singh, a stone polisher who got work commissioned to him by a local contractor in Janakpuri for the first time in three months, says the construction industry has slumped. “There is no work. Buildings have been left half built. Sab bandh pada hai (Everything has come to a standstill),” Singh said.
Factories in nearby Mayapuri industrial area, which saw workers buying tools and wares from the ironsmiths of Pankha road and Mayapuri Phase II, have slashed production, fired workers and done away with the second shift which got workers their overtime. “It took years for these factory units to set up and expand but only a few weeks for the whole chain of production to collapse,” IFTU’s general secretary (Delhi) Rajesh Kumar said.