Hindustan Times Exculsive Coverage , 28th October 2007, Sunday Magazine, Page 7
MAKING JUTTIS NEEDS NO MACHINERY; THEY ARE ONE HUNDRED PER CENT HAND-MADE. BUT
CRAFTSMEN NEED HELP A FAMILY HAS TO WORK AT LEAST 12 HOURS TO PRODUCE THREE-FOUR
PAIRS OF JUTTIS & EARN Rs 35-Rs 40 A DAY
The demand for juttis has seen ups and downs over the past 60 years but it has never dried up completely In. fact, in recent years, demand has been brisk with orders coming in not only from Punjab but from distant parts of India and even from foreign retailers.
Another thing about the footwear that Fazilka now calls its own - it has admirers in all kinds of high places. Sukhbir Badal prefers juttis from Fazilka and so does Jagmeet Brar. These shoes definitely cut across party lines. Film star Juhi Chawla swears by 'em and so does Jimmy Shergill. In fact, who would think of visiting Fazilka and not making a beeline for Indra Market where dozens of shops are stacked floor to ceiling with these slippers.
Traditionally the colours were only black, shades of tan and a unique deep red but with the advent of more sophisticated dyes - and changing tastes - juttis are made in all sorts of colours. Match any outfit! "The traditional designs still attract the maximum number of cus tomers," says shoemaker Dalip Kumar. However, he hastens to add that his workmen are fully capable of producing more ‘modern' styles, including uppers with cutwork, braid or crimp finish.
‘Workmen', did we say? Actually , making a pair of jutti is a whole-fami ly exercise with women carrying out the embroidery and detailing - or as they call it tila bharai. An artisan family on an average produces about three pairs of jutti every day working , up to 12 hours a day .
Buffalo leather is used for the soles and goat leather is taken for the uppers. The special tanning process makes buffalo leather supple and superior to the camel leather commonly used in juttis from Rajasthan. "Their juttis are hard; ours are soft and pliable," says Dalip.
It is back-breaking work - literally The older workers can no longer . stand straight - their spines are permanently curved from hunching over the cobblers' last. If a family can manage to turn out three pair of jutti per day it will earn about Rs 35 to Rs 40 - that is, about Rs 18 to 20 per pair.
Now are you remembering the prices from the last time you shopped for juttis? The simplest pair went for Rs 200, those with a bit of embroidery were priced from Rs 500 to Rs 750 and the heavily embroidered pairs went up to about Rs 1,500. Prices in Fazilka's bazaars is much less but even then a simple pair of jutti will cost not less than Rs 90.
"Middle men profit, not us producers," shrugs Dalip.
Middlemen are only one of many problems. Jutti Manufacturers Union president Subhash Chandra Dhalia has them all on his fingertips: "Juttis are at the top of the list when anyone names Punjab's handicrafts. The government says it wants to encourage and preserve traditional crafts and help craftsmen, but we get no help at all. Neither from the Centre, state government, Khadi and Village Industries Commission, nor from any of those big Delhi NGOs like CAPART. We are left to sink or swim by ourselves. Himachal, Haryana and Rajasthan levy no tax on juttis but Punjab taxes our product. We need a research and design centre to help us upgrade our shoes and cater to modern tastes. A centre could improve the skills of even the illiterate mochis. Leather is more and more costly and no one engaged in this trade has any margin to let him build up a stock of leather to tide over the fluctuations in price. Moreover, juttis sell mainly in the winter months and we face a long lean period for the rest of the year. In actual fact, we don't get bank loans; either we manage from our own capital or take loans from moneylenders who charge interest of even 50 per cent. Some of them cheat us too. We need micro-credit schemes and marketing assistance."
In the first week of October the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce for the Leather Workers visited Fazilka and saw the notso-good condition of the industry . The committee's answer to the problems is "form a cooperative society" and members urged the local administration to help the artisans to form a coop which would be eligible for many benefits. But Dhalia points out: "We have a cooperative but its just on paper and completely non-functional. Why start a new one if we have never been able to set the old one right? Marketing is the key, we want a tax holiday to encourage this handicraft industry and government help for direct retailing so that we would actually benefit from consumer demand. We keep hearing about all kinds of government schemes to help the economy in border areas. Fazilka is right on the border. Why is there nothing for us?"
Making juttis needs no machinery; they are one hundred per cent handmade. The craftsmen are still there, they still have the skills, but they need help. "If this is not forthcoming, then the younger generation will seek any other kind of employment and traditional juttis will vanish from the landscape of Punjab forever," warns Dhalia.