Coronavirus slugs potters' wheel into slow motion, 'Kumhar Grams' struggle to make ends meet

Gurgaon, May 17 (PTI) Rukma Devi spends her day sitting on the roadside with earthen pots and piggy banks lined up on a folding table, desperately waiting for customers that never come.

Every passing vehicle raises her hopes which are dashed in a flash as it zooms past. Her husband, who is usually at the potter's wheel when she sets up the makeshift shop, has stopped making new ones now.

'There are no sales,' Rukma, 32, rues.

She is among the many who stay in various 'Kumhar Grams' (potters' villages) in Gurgaon and make earthen pots and diyas for livelihoods. First the ban on use of wood-fire kilns and now the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus have left them struggling to make their ends meet.

'There are no sales. My husband has stopped making new ones as we have not sold even 10 pieces in last two months,' Rukma told PTI, cuddling her 3-year-old kid who sleeps with a mask on a cloth mattress beside her.

Her husband is now looking for some alternative work but there has been no luck because of the lockdown. 'I bring my son with me, because my husband goes to different places where food is being distributed. Thus, he arranges meals for us,' she says.

Roshan, 42, apprehends that the situation might not improve just after the lockdown is eased as the fear of virus spread has gripped people.

'This used to be a good season for us as people would prefer buying earthen pots to beat summer woes. However, it's not the same this year. It's not just the lockdown that has caused this situation but also the fear of virus spread. Even if we take precautions of wearing masks and washing hands, people are sceptical in buying,' he said.

The lockdown has also halted the supply of clayey soil, which is used to make earthen pots and other products.

'We just have two seasons -- one is summer and the other is Diwali time. We survive on the savings from these time or do other jobs. However, we are already running out of the savings now and there are not much options to take up some alternative work,' Deepak Kumar said.

'The supply of soil is limited. We were already feeling the pinch due to competitive pricing, low wholesale rates and the government's push to ban wood-fired kilns used by us for pottery. The virus spread and the lockdown have made things even worse,' he added.

Gurgaon has several settlements of potters. The area used to be bustling with activities amid a din of vendors trying to make a sale and buyers trying to bargain. But all these have vanished now. There is some occasional commotion when someone comes to distribute food or essentials.

The potters in Kumhar Gram usually sell their products at a very low price, mostly in wholesale to dealers who further sell the in different parts of the city at higher profit margins. 'Dealers are also not buying at this time. And even when they do, the payment is not immediate. The government is making announcements for everyone, but no one has bothered about the potters.

'In the initial days of lockdown, we were not even allowed to sell. Now the cops don't bother us unless we are not wearing a mask, but that is not helping our livelihoods,' said Prince Khandodiya.

The nationwide lockdown was first imposed from March 25 to April 14, then extended until May 3, and again extended to May 17 with an aim to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that has claimed 2,872 lives and infected 90,927 people in the country.

India's economy has been severely hit by the coronavirus-induced lockdown with thousands of people losing their means of livelihood across the country. To deal with the situation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced an economic stimulus package for Rs 20-lakh crore, estimated at 10 per cent of the GDP. PTI GJS VJ VJ