India’s ‘pencil village’ counts the cost of Covid school closures | Global development


School closures in India throughout the pandemic have left their mark on greater than the youngsters who’ve seen delays to their studying. In a single Kashmiri village the impression has been catastrophic on employment.

Decide up a pencil anyplace throughout India and it’s prone to come from the poplar timber of Ukhoo.

This village, with an abundance of timber, about 10 miles south of Srinagar metropolis in Kashmir’s Pulwama district, provides greater than 90% of the wooden utilized by India’s pencil producers, which export to greater than 150 countries.

Earlier than Covid, greater than 2,500 individuals labored in the village’s 17 pencil factories and the business supported about 250 households.

However, after almost two years of school closures and a dramatic drop in demand for the village’s merchandise, manufacturing unit house owners lowered their workforce by greater than half.

Staff have been dismissed with out pay, whereas many of those that stored their jobs had migrated from different components of India, and have been cheaper to make use of. Now the village and its workforce are ready eagerly for the market to revive.

Rajesh Kumar, 26, from Bihar, has labored in Ukhoo for seven years. Like different migrant staff, he lives in a room on the manufacturing unit premises and works 10- to 12-hour shifts. Throughout lockdown final yr, the manufacturing unit proprietor supplied meals and lodging when manufacturing shutdown for about three months. He’s one of the luckier ones to be again working now.

“I hope the pencil demand will increase and these factories are full of staff once more, as many of our mates and folks from our villages discover work [here] and are in a position to make a residing,” says Kumar.

Poplar logs outside a pencil slate factory, Ukhoo
Manufacturing unit house owners have needed to lay off half of their staff throughout the pandemic. {Photograph}: Adil Abbas

Farooq Ahmed Wani, 27, from the metropolis of Jammu, has labored as a machine operator in Ukhoo for the previous 5 years.

“We hope that colleges reopen all through the nation so that there’s extra demand for pencils in the market,” he says in an optimistic tone. “Then these factories can make use of extra younger individuals and extra migrants may also get some work right here.”

Pencil wala Gaon, or “pencil village”, attracted the consideration of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. In his month-to-month radio programme, Mann Ki Baat, last year he said the district was an instance of the right way to cut back the nation’s dependency on imports. “As soon as upon a time we used to import wooden for pencils from overseas however now our Pulwama is making the nation self-sufficient in the discipline of pencil making,” Modi mentioned.

90% of the wood used in pencils manufactured in India comes from Ukhoo.
Ukhoo provides 90% of the wooden utilized in pencils manufactured in India. {Photograph}: Vincent Lecomte/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

A current ministry of house affairs report mentioned that the village could be developed as a “particular zone” for manufacturing. “Now the complete nation could be equipped completed pencils, manufactured utterly in Pulwama,” the report famous. However the pandemic has proven how overreliance on one product in a area brings its personal issues.

A migrant worker trims a plank of poplar wood at a pencil slate factory
A migrant employee trims timber at a pencil manufacturing unit. The factories appeal to staff from a number of states. {Photograph}: Adil Abbas

Abrar Ahmed, a unit supervisor at one of Ukhoo’s factories, says everybody has suffered. “Even the sawdust from woodcutting machines is normally taken by the native villagers who then promote it to poultry farms and for different functions in the village.”

Manzoor Ahmad Allaie owns one of the largest factories in Ukhoo.

“We’re solely doing about 30% to 40% [of normal levels of] enterprise now as a result of of the Covid lockdown impression from final yr, which implies we produce about solely 80 luggage of pencil slats a day,” says Allaie. “Earlier we may produce about 300 pencil slat luggage [a day] in the manufacturing unit, which have been transported out of Kashmir.”

He’s eagerly trying ahead to India’s colleges absolutely reopening. It has been a tough two years for the pencil villagers, he says.

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