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

1 year ago 108

School closures successful India during the pandemic person near their people connected much than the children who person seen delays to their learning. In 1 Kashmiri colony the interaction has been catastrophic connected employment.

Pick up a pencil anyplace crossed India and it is apt to travel from the poplar trees of Ukhoo.

This village, with an abundance of trees, astir 10 miles southbound of Srinagar metropolis successful Kashmir’s Pulwama district, supplies much than 90% of the wood utilized by India’s pencil manufacturers, which export to much than 150 countries.

Before Covid, much than 2,500 radical worked successful the village’s 17 pencil factories and the manufacture supported astir 250 families.

But, aft astir 2 years of schoolhouse closures and a melodramatic driblet successful request for the village’s products, mill owners reduced their workforce by much than half.

Workers were dismissed without pay, portion galore of those who kept their jobs had migrated from different parts of India, and were cheaper to employ. Now the colony and its workforce are waiting eagerly for the marketplace to revive.

Rajesh Kumar, 26, from Bihar, has worked successful Ukhoo for 7 years. Like different migrant workers, helium lives successful a country connected the mill premises and works 10- to 12-hour shifts. During lockdown past year, the mill proprietor provided nutrient and accommodation erstwhile accumulation shutdown for astir 3 months. He is 1 of the luckier ones to beryllium backmost moving now.

“I anticipation the pencil request increases and these factories are afloat of workers again, arsenic galore of our friends and radical from our villages find enactment [here] and are capable to marque a living,” says Kumar.

Poplar logs extracurricular  a pencil slate factory, Ukhoo
Factory owners person had to laic disconnected fractional of their workers during the pandemic. Photograph: Adil Abbas

Farooq Ahmed Wani, 27, from the metropolis of Jammu, has worked arsenic a instrumentality relation successful Ukhoo for the past 5 years.

“We are hoping that schools reopen passim the state truthful that determination is much request for pencils successful the market,” helium says successful an optimistic tone. “Then these factories tin employment much young radical and much migrants tin besides get immoderate enactment here.”

Pencil wala Gaon, oregon “pencil village”, attracted the attraction of India’s premier minister, Narendra Modi. In his monthly vigor programme, Mann Ki Baat, past twelvemonth helium said the territory was an illustration of however to trim the country’s dependency connected imports. “Once upon a clip we utilized to import wood for pencils from overseas but present our Pulwama is making the state self-sufficient successful the tract of pencil making,” Modi said.

90% of the wood   utilized  successful  pencils manufactured successful  India comes from Ukhoo.
Ukhoo supplies 90% of the wood utilized successful pencils manufactured successful India. Photograph: Vincent Lecomte/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

A caller ministry of location affairs study said that the colony would beryllium developed arsenic a “special zone” for manufacturing. “Now the full state would beryllium supplied finished pencils, manufactured wholly successful Pulwama,” the study noted. But the pandemic has shown however overreliance connected 1 merchandise successful a portion brings its ain problems.

A migrant idiosyncratic    trims a plank of poplar wood   astatine  a pencil slate factory
A migrant idiosyncratic trims timber astatine a pencil factory. The factories pull workers from respective states. Photograph: Adil Abbas

Abrar Ahmed, a portion supervisor astatine 1 of Ukhoo’s factories, says everyone has suffered. “Even the sawdust from woodcutting machines is usually taken by the section villagers who past merchantability it to poultry farms and for different purposes successful the village.”

Manzoor Ahmad Allaie owns 1 of the biggest factories successful Ukhoo.

“We are lone doing astir 30% to 40% [of mean levels of] concern present due to the fact that of the Covid lockdown interaction from past year, which means we nutrient astir lone 80 bags of pencil slats a day,” says Allaie. “Earlier we could nutrient astir 300 pencil slat bags [a day] successful the factory, which were transported retired of Kashmir.”

He is eagerly looking guardant to India’s schools afloat reopening. It has been a hard 2 years for the pencil villagers, helium says.

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