Have you noticed how the traditional household scrap trade has moved, almost all over India, into the hands and on the bicycles of “a particular community”? If you have, then read on, and if you haven’t, then please re-confirm and let the writer know if there is a discrepancy in what was just stated.
Many of Independent India’s largest manufacturing industries owe their birth or their evolution from trading to manufacturing to the sudden and huge boom in post World War II metal scrap all over Asia. It is also important to recall that the two major seaports in India then, for this trade to flow through, were Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Bombay (now Mumbai).
That these were the two major seaports for the movement of opium and one of them for tea is linked to the birth or evolution of slavery to the colonial trio of crown, cutlass and cross concept, but more on that later, for now I wish to concentrate on scrap and its importance to India.
Trading in scrap, globally, has been the single most important way to establish the strength of a community anywhere. Whether a new entrant to the mix of communities already existing, or from a wave of immigrants coming in for economic reasons, scrap has always been an easy starting point which very often the other “established” (read “lazier”) communities treat with disdain.
Whilst metal scrap always had a value, never before has the wide range of scrap items had such a huge value, for those willing to get down and dirty in any country. And with that, increasingly, comes control of the cash economy of a country. And further that, with control of the cash economy, comes control of a vast range of other cash only activities – narcotics, flesh, bullion, arms & ammo, and now more than ever before – terror.
Trying to explain this at length will make this essay unwieldy. But understand one simple Truth please – the middleman makes all the profits and establishes power, through scrap, and subsequent.
I have memories, after Partition, of how the religious bodies in the neighbourhood would provide easy financial assistance as well as protection to those from the refugee communities who got into the scrap and recycle trade. I have seen this in my own family, direct and extended, and it was a very co-operative affair, involving both genders. The men would go around collecting or buying the scrap, early in the morning, the children and the women would re-work the scrap through the day, the men would then sell at a profit in the evenings, and the protection came from the Community’s religious entities.
As simple as that. In due course of time, the man on the cycle acquired a space on a pavement or access to a small shop, or whatever else was needed – but the support and protection of the religion was always present.
As time moved on, the support became two-way, and everyone prospered. But what lingered was the dignity of labour aspect of the scrap trade – I still remember elderly relatives who had post Partition achieved high positions in Government jobs, never forgetting the lessons learnt, and always asking the Kabaadee Vala his name first.
(Same, by the way, for street food. Or barber. Or butcher. Or kirana. Or sweet-shop.)
We need to get the scrap trade, home and house and office upwards, back into our control.
Going forward, I shall present some ideas here, till then – do look around, who is buying the “kabaadee” from you.