Wages of Liberalisation
THE already fragile Muslim economy in India has come under severe strain due to WTO sanctions-driven economic liberalization. Though it affects all section of people, Muslims will be greater victims given their small businesses and nascent entrepreneurship. They are more vulnerable because their financial strength is abyssmal, management structure is loose and their small scale industrial units suffer from paucity of technical know-how to survive and compete in a globalised market. Massive unemployment stares into the eyes of the community much like any other community caught in similar circumstances.
Already the winds are carrying the straws. Bhiwandi powerlooms have fallen silent. Thousands of workers are virtually starving. It is long since Ahmedabad mills closed down rendering lakhs of Muslim workers unemployed. Aligarhís lock factories are under lockout. Less expensive and much more sophisticated Chinese locks have ejected them out of the market. Toy makers of Mumbai and Delhi stand no chance of competing with toymakers of Far-Eastern countries. Sheen of Moradabadís brassware has dulled in the West Asian market where exquisite Thai brassware catch the eyes. Muslim silk rearers, reelers and twisters of Karnataka have been pushed out of business in the wake of import of cheaper Chinese silk. Nor is the coffee from Karnatakaís southern highlands yielding any hope. China and Brazil have outplaced the expensive brew from India. It will not be long before Mirzapur and Bhadohi made carpets lost the race in the domestic market. Tajikistan, Turkey and Iran are sure to displace them.
With the third instalment of Quantitative Restrictions (QRs) being lifted under WTO sanctions from April 1 this year, another 715 items will be freed for import by Indians. During the last two years 894 and 714 products were respectively freed from QRs. Trends show that Indians are importing things even as Indian as yoghurt and sitafal from abroad. So there should be no room for complaint if importers opt for silk or sitar if it is available at more competitive rates. Be it pens or pins, or sophisticated electronic goods, China has emerged as the major threat for the Indian consumer goods. It is out to pump the Indian market with its goods manufactured at a cost that is just a fraction of Indiaís. The Indian goods tied down with huge costs of corruption and low productivity are all likely to lose the ground, at least for some years to come.
All this must set off alarm bells for Muslims if it does not exactly spell doom as of now for those of us in business and industry. While pros and cons of liberalization could be issues of ideological debate on the larger economic plane, for the entrepreneur in the hovel workshops in Aligarh, Dharavi or Badayun the onrush of imported goods could be a death sentence. The only way they could stay in competititon is by opting for induction of new technology, strengthening of financial structure, effective marketing and qualitative improvement in the goods. This, of course, cannot be the concern for Muslims alone. India as a whole has to address these concerns in order to counter the impending massive inflow of imports. Threat of unemployment and outflow of hard-earned foreign exchange are two major threats.
What we need to think at this juncture is that the community should at least think collectively. Aligarh locks had been facing the threat for long. It had been churning out lever locks which had outlived their utility. The world market had opted for pin cylinder locks. Thanks to the captive, controlled, domestic market, the lever locks were still in fashion in India. But with import gates open, markets are flush with Chinese locks. Obviously, the non-induction of new technology was the major scuttling factor for this industry. The AMUís polytechnic and engineering college could have imported this technology. But they sat silently just across the railway line. Similarly Meerutís scissors makers could never graduate upto razor makers. Nor did the Jaunpurís perfumeries did anything to package their products more aesthetically and attractively. Ferozeabadís glassworks failed the test of marketing. Sambhalís horn artisans, Rampurís knife industries, Gorapkhpurís weavers, Jaipurís nagara shoemakers, Sanganerís handpaper industries, Ilkalís sari weavers, Tiruppurís hosiery weavers, Channpatnaís toymakers, Bidarís Bidri works have done little by way of induction of new technology, designing and marketing skills. Scarcely do Muslims bother to think of upgradation of skills, refinement of products, cutting of wastage, developing substitute for polluting processes and bringing down costs.
Threat of unemployment is frightening. Of the 715 items on which QR is being lifted this year, 150 belong to readymade garments and 15 to carpets. One could just imagine its impact on the two lakh Muslim tailors of Matiaburz in Kolkata, one lakh artisans of Dharavi in Mumbai and traditional carpet weaving centers such as Mirzapur. It is time Muslims woke up from slumbers and begin to think of as an economic entity too, an entity that contributes to national wealth and weal substantially.