PDF Version - Economic and Political Weekly

September 26, 1953
Survey of the Economic and Social Conditions
of the Chamars of Barpali in Orissa
Nityananda Patnaik
(Continued from previous issue)
In this thud and final instalment is surveyed the economic conditions of those Chamars who combine
other occupations with work on hides or do not work on hides at all. The author concludes with an opinion survey on the proposal for starting a shoe or fanning factory in Barpali.
O give a complete account of
the economics of shoe-making,
it is also necessary to note the implements and machines used for i t .
This is given in Table V I .
Kanci Meher combines three different occupations. He cultivates the
land of other people on Chhodol
system and got a crop last year of
7 purugs of paddy and paid Rs 80
to the landlord. This paddy is sufficient to feed his family for about
7 months. For the rest of the year
he depends on his income from shoemaking and hide business, He sells
hides for 6 months and makes shoes
for the other 6 months of the year.
Last year he sent 4 cartloads of
hides (400 pieces) to Sambalpur. He
purchased the hides at Rs 2 apiece,
paying in all Rs 800 for the lot. He
sold them at Rs 40 per maund. A
maund averages 10 to 12 pieces of
hide, so for approximately 36 maunds
he got Rs 3,240. He collected these
hides from places as distant as Bhandaritikra, Kharpnunda, Bamni, Gaisclet, Bheren, Chichinda, Remenda,
etc. In transporting the hides from
those places to his home and then
to Sambalpur he spent Rs 1 20, at
Rs 30 per cartload of 100 hides.
For salting them, he spent Rs 100.
Thus his net earning last year from
trade in hides was Rs 220. Regarding his shoe business, which he carries on in the other 6 months of
the year, whatever shoes he makes,
he sells in weekly markets at Barpali,
Rampur and Bargarh. His earnings
from shoemaking for the 6 months
are shown in Table V I I .
Tanning. K M knows tanning
and described to me how he does i t .
First the hide is dried in the sun
for a day and then soaked in water.
Then it is taken out, anointed w i t h
lime, rolled up and put in a vat of
lime-water where it is kept immersed
for about a fortnight during which
it is twice washed thoroughly in the
lime water. After this fortnight, the
hide is put into a tank of fresh water
for a day. Then any flesh that may
still be sticking to the hide is scrapcd off and the hide is put into
harida (turmeric) water. If young
unripe harida beans are available,
they are boiled in water. The ripe
ones are pounded and the powder
mixed w i t h water. The hide is kept
under this water for two days. Then
it is dried, folded in the middle and
berth ends sewed to make a bag with
a narrow opening at the top. The
bag is filled w i t h either sahaj or
rengal bark powder and fresh water
poured in to fill it to the top. The
bag thus filled w i t h bark powder and
water is then hung from a tree for
half a day, so two pieces of hide
may easily be tanned in bark in a
day. After this tanning, which they
call heug, the bag is unsewed, unfolded and the bark powder taken
out. Finally the hide is dried well
and the process is complete.
K M does not want to carry on
business in hides any longer because
(1) he has no cash to buy hides and
(2) if he borrows from the Mahajan
in Sambalpur, he is bound to sell all
the hides to him under certain conditions, l i e must sell at half rate
those hides which the Mahajan considers to be of inferior quality and
it is the Mahajan who fixes the rate.
Even though he promised to pay
Rs 40 per maund, the Mahajan does
not keep his word but often when
K M arrives at the .shop with cartloads of hide, he is told the market
price has dropped to Rs 30 and he
must sell at that rate. This means
to him a loss because as the Mahajan
gives him money in advance, K M
also gives money in advance to the
Chasis who supply him with hides.
September 26, 1953
He buys from them at a rate profitable on the basis of the rate promised h i m . So as he learns from the
Mahajan that the price for the lot
has been cut by Rs 10, he gets a
shock and becomes disheartened.
To avoid this system of advances,
the only alternative is to borrow from
a money-lender at a rate of interest
of 3 per cent a months Even then
the Mahajan cheats h i m in selecting
and weighing the hides and in the
rate paid.
There are seven families of Chamars who depend entirely on agriculture and daily labour and do not
work on hides at all. One among
them is the only one in the whole
Chamar population of the village
who knows carpentry. This man has
been working as a carpenter for the
last 25 years, making looms, doors,
door-frames, wooden boxes, tables
and chairs, He says he ordinarily
earns Rs 35 to Rs 40 monthly. He
has no children. He and his wife
make up his family. He has one
and one-half acres of land and last
year he got from it 6 purugs of
paddy which fed them for about
8 months. This man docs not want
to do any work on hide, He says
he would feel ashamed to work on
hide for he considers carpentry superior to shoemaking, tanning and selling hides. He says that nobody
looks down on carpentry as it is
practised by people belonging to all
kinds of caste. On the other hand,
leather work and tanning arc considered as low caste's job everywhere
in this country.
and sells, the more profit he makes.
This truly applies to these men.
They buy hides from the rural Chamars and Gandas at Re 1 to Rs 2
apiece, and sell them at Rs 4-4 to
Rs 5 apiece. If a shoe factory is
opened in the village, then hides w i l l
be needed for running i t . The rich
beparis who are selling the hides in
Sambalpur w i l l be asked to supply
hides to the factory instead. Government w i l l control the price of
hides and w i l l ask the beparis to sell
at the controlled rate. In course of
years, Government w i l l control buying and selling of hides. The beparis
can no longer send them to Sambalpur, nor can they sell any more at
a higher price. As soon as Government intervenes and a factory is set
up in Barpali, the rural Gamklas,
Ghasis and Chamars who arc now
selling the hides to the beparis at
extremely low rates, will no longer
do so. They will be clever and at
the instigation of the Government,
they will demand a reasonable price.
I n that case, the beparis will suffer a
great loss. On the one hand, they
will have to purchase hides from
outlying villages at a higher price
and sell them to the factory at a
controlled rate which will be, they
think, much lower than that in Sambalpur.
At the time of conducting the
survey among the Chamars, they
were told nothing about the proposed tanning industry. But some of
them suspected that it was probably
for opening a shoe or tanning factory
that such data were being collected.
I could sense from the behaviour
and casual remarks of the people that
the shoemakers and tanners who are
not beparis would welcome the idea
of starting a factory but the beparis
would not. As a matter of fact
when the suggestion for opening a
shoe factory was put up for discussion by the people, some of the
beparis such as Kama, Kesab and
Lochana strongly resented and opposed the idea and for excellent reasons
as here is the way they are thinking.
They are the richest men among all
the Chamars of the village. They
collect large numbers of hides and
supply them to the Mahajan. For
this the Mahajan gives them good
terms. The more hides a man collects
The shoemakers, tanners and landless Chamars, however, are strongly
in favour of starting a factory in the
village. As mentioned above, whatever shoes are made here, are sold in
the local markets. As the shoes are
made of inferior tanned leather and
are shabby to look at because of
inferior making, they are sold at a
very low price. No big market would
accept these inferior shoes. Moreover, shoes sell more in some seasons
than in others and there is never an
even demand at all seasons in this
locality. The Chamar suffers most in
those months when shoes arc not
much wanted. After the Canal officers came here, the sale of shoes has
increased. But these officers are not
to be depended on as they w i l l not
remain in this locality permanently.
Therefore, the Chamars, shoemakers
and tanners like the idea of having
a factory in which they may learn
improved tanning and shoemaking
practices. They believe they can tan
better and make better shoes in the
factory. As all the tanned leather
w i l l not be used in shoemaking and
as all the shoes made in the factory
w i l l not be sold in the locality, the
surplus can be sent outside to bigger
markets. A l l this, they believe, w i l l
ameliorate their present economic