This series of interviews portrays the economic life of Dharavi in Mumbai through the activities of its inhabitants.
How garment manufacturer Muzaffar makes in Dharavi. (Make in Dharavi III)
A small lane to the left from Dharavi depot road, towards Maharashtra Nature Park, opens up to a small open space with Muzaffar’s tool – house as a back drop. With children playing in the open area, and people using it for transition, it remains lively. An external ladder from the ground floor leads up to Muzaffar’s garment workshop which is a 225 sq. ft. area with 8 sewing machines and 7 workers, 3 to 4 of whom stay in the workshop at night for security purpose.
Muzaffar started his garment business 4 years ago on a loan from his parents. This would be the last loan he ever received. He says that no bank is willing to invest in an upcoming business, or one that isn’t making a profit. In other words, banks only lend to people whose survival does not hang in the balance. Muzaffar jokingly compares this to requesting assistance to push an already moving car. His workshop is a small space with 6 machines. He has 4 employees for whom the space also doubles up as a home. When asked why he doesn’t hire 2 more people to use the free machines, he says that he cannot find anyone willing to do the job. He explains that as our ‘culture’ became more competitive and money-minded, people stopped turning to the garment industry as a viable option. He says that in this industry, there is only enough to afford the basic necessities. 10 years ago, when he would go to get ration, 300 rupees would feed 3 families. But today the scenario is vastly different. In 1995, a Master (i.e. the owner of the tailoring business) earning 6000 rupees a month could provide for his family while enjoying certain luxuries. Today a master can barely eke out a living earning 20,000 a month. He has a contract with 2 companies. He says that he is not able to get more as companies give contracts on the basis of the machines that the workshop has. He says, “You won’t believe me, but my bank account is in the negative!” he explains how, before 1995, people who entered this line of work became crorepatis. But after unionisation began in the 1995, the earnings for manufacturers dwindled. He says that inflation in the market today is too high for his job to have any future. There is no economic mobility. While the prices of goods and inflation have risen 4-fold, their income has risen 2-fold. Muzaffar is very fond of mathematical analogies, and for all his claims of being an uneducated man, his mind works incredibly fast. He says that the current government only cares about the rich, and has driven businesses like his to ruins. He is not shy about stating that the problems began ever since the Modi government came into power 3 years ago. When asked what policies of theirs contributed to this, he says he has no knowledge of specific policies that brought on the current crisis—only that business has suffered and he is running major losses. He says that banks only want to give loans to certain kinds of people, and he does not fit into the mould. He is not educated; he does not have contacts in high places, and does not have money to fall back on. As for the government, he says that he is not an important enough person to demand anything from them. There is no question of a loan. He believes that if the government provided training in the field it could have a huge impact. Today’s youth is taking up jobs such as driving, or immigrating to the Gulf to find jobs which allow for greater economic mobility. Muzaffar believes that if the government invested in training and education, it would help make the job seem more respectable and encourage the youth to enter this line of work. Of demonetisation, he has nothing more to say but that everyone suffered losses, some more than others. He says that for 6-8 months of the year he is able to get work, for the rest, his business comes almost to a standstill. He jokes about how he gets 10 calls in a day from banks offering loans. When he answers, “Yes, I want a loan for 20 lakhs”, they ask if he has a business. “I’m obviously asking because I don’t!” he laughs.