Interviews of cutlers:
Mushtaq, Abdul Rashid, Abdul Qadir, and Suleman
Place of Residence: Reha
Date of Interview : 17/02/12
Mushtaq's Interview Summary
Originally, Mushtaq was from the Mundra Taluka district, Barai village, but now lives in Reha. Collectively, Mushtaq, his two brothers and nephew have three knife-making workshops in Reha. Mushtaq told us that there were formerly around a hundred shops engaged in making knives, but now there are just eight or ten left. The reason behind this decline is the poor profitability of the industry, and earnings purely depend on the amount of labour done per day. Mushtaq has followed the profession for around fourteen years, but only earns between 5,000 and 7,000 rupees a month.
Abdul Rashid's Interview Summary
Abdul Rashid has specialised in making wooden knife handles for thirty-five years. He is only educated up to the 5th grade and as the only one in his family in work, he and his four children live very much a hand-to-mouth existence. His father worked in the same profession but was also a farm owner. The cutler’s safety apparatus is basic and does not guarantee complete protection. Rather than modern safety kits, the workers continue to use the older equipment, including a cotton band or a strap that covers the fingers and thumb to protect them during the sharpening process. It is especially designed to protect against the metal strings attached to the sharpening device. The workers also cover their face with a cloth to protect against the metal particles and dust created.
Abdul discussed the division of labour involved in his profession. Wooden or brass handles are made by specialised labourers, while the blades are sharpened by the other workers. Similarly, another group of artisans polish the wooden handles (using varnish), and carve the handles' designs. In this way, one knife-making business provides employment for a range of handicraftsmen. Profits are small however and the workers live difficult and underprivileged lives.
One of the cutlers we observed had secured many orders and reknowned awards for his craftsmanship in knife and sword making. While he had great influence in the local community, he too lives a basic existence. He told us that after the earthquake of 2001 things changed for the worst for those in his village. The local craft of knife making – a classic example of tacit knowledge – needs immediate revival and projects that can successfully connect the artisans to global markets.
Abdul Qadir and Jafferbhai's Interview Summary
For fifteen years Abdul Qadir has worked in the knife-making trade, inscribing names on the wooden handles. His son, who has just finished five years of schooling, helps him in his trade. His two brothers are in different trades: one of them continues to run his father’s flour mill, and the other is a welder. At the time of the interview, Qadir was completing an order placed by a customer from Mumbai.
Jafferbhai, who runs a flour mill, joined the talk half way through. Unlike his son, neither he nor his father were knife workers. The work of blacksmithing (lohari kam) has been followed for seven or eight generations (pedhi) in the village and many of the inhabitants are engaged in the profession in some way. Local orders placed for the products are scattered, although intercity orders are also regularly placed.
Suleman's Interview Summary
45-year-old Suleman did not study in his youth, and eagerly entered the business of making knives early in his life. Indeed, many current artisans dropped out of school in order to support their family’s profession. There are few examples of those who complete higher studies, and this this trend is set to continue. Suleman’s father used to make nutcrackers and his grandfather made scissors. He also made these products, but has since moved on to polishing. The sale price of the final product is so small that it yields very small profits: the polished wooden-handled knives are sold for just 25 rupees. To attract buyers, enamel decorations, peacock-shaped designs and rattles are incorporated in some of the nut crackers made by the artisans. Even such decorated products can fetch only 100 to 150 rupees. The humble, dusky and under-ventilated workshops of these artisans is evidence of the poor remuneration for their labour and craftsmanship.