Thick-skinned: A Day in The Life of Mohammmad Adil
Adil has been in this job for 10 yrs, and earns up to Rs 6,000 a month.
Adil hasn’t heard of NGT’s whip to Kanpur’s tanneries. He is just glad he has his job – even if his wife hates the way he smells after work
“My wife hates the way my work makes me smell,” says Mohammad Adil, 30, hurling pink, squishy buffalo ears into a horizontal rolling drum. But Adil thinks she is just being difficult. He has long stopped noticing the smell — a clawing, fetid smell that makes your stomach churn.
This is his job, the only skill he has, and he has been doing this since he turned 20.
Last month, the National Green Tribunal said it would be “compelled” to act against tanneries in the city if they didn’t stop pouring untreated effluents into the Ganga.
Adil doesn’t know about the NGT ruling but has heard of some tanneries shutting down. Luckily for him, Babu Bhai’s tannery in Kanpur’s Jajmau suburb, where he works, is not among them.
So far, the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) has cracked down on about 98 tanneries, cutting off their electricity and water. Kanpur’s 400-odd tanneries are scattered across Jajmau, a suburb with a non-existent sewerage system whose Wajidpur Nala spouts toxic sludge into the Ganga, much of it chromium that is used to tan leather.
Adil starts his day at the tannery at 8 every morning, after a 2-km walk from his house in Jajmau. He usually wakes up around 6 am to help his wife with their three-month-old daughter while she busies herself around the house. But these days, she is visiting her mother with the child, so today, he could afford an extra hour’s sleep.
The rolling drum — one of two such drums — at the tannery is his work station. Every morning, he removes his kurta and sweater, bundles them up and tucks them away behind the drum. He then wears his work gear — a pair of orange rubber gloves and a pair of gum boots, its soles thick with last night’s lime. And then, he picks the buffalo ears and gets down to shovelling them into the drum.
The tannery, spread over 2 bighas, is mostly without a roof, except for the area where the drums are kept. In its large courtyard are piles of raw and tanned buffalo ears spread out for drying, besides layers of tanned hide.
Outside, Hafiz-ur-Rahman or Babu Bhai, the owner of the tannery, and his sons Mujeeb Rahman and Mohammad Ali, sit on plastic chairs surrounded by children, ducks, roosters, chicks, goats, a buffalo and its calf. The family lives in an old two-storey house in front of the tannery. As president of the Small Tanners’ Association, Babu Bhai enjoys some clout among officials. “I was spared because I had the consent letter,” he says, referring to the annual permit issued by the UPPCB to tanneries.
Babu Bhai employs about six workers at his tannery, but that number changes depending on the orders he gets. The tannery deals with buffalo ears and split-hide (the inner layer of the hide). The split-hide comes from a few big tanneries and slaughter houses nearby and Adil and the others clean it up — remove hair and flesh — before processing it. The processed buffalo ears and split-hide are sent to local factories in Kanpur, which export them as ‘dog chew’. While the ears are sold in their original shape, the split-hide is cut and shaped into bones for dogs. “Kutton ko ye kaan bahut pasand hain, par ye videshi kutton ke liye hain (dogs like to chew on buffalo ears, but these are for foreign dogs),” says Adil, chuckling. Every month, Adil and his co-workers handle around 50,000 buffalo ears and about 8 tonnes of split-hide.
Today, Adil is at work with Guddu, Chand, Nagdev and Jhinkan, who are supervised by Surya Pal Singh Yadav “Munshi”. Once the ears are loaded, the wooden drum is half-filled with water and switched on. After 20 minutes, Adil and the others empty 25 kg of sodium into the drum and turn the switch on again. “This thing burns our skin,” he says, emptying a sackful of the chemical. “It’s dangerous. But I can’t stop working. I have to feed my family,” he says, adding after a long pause, “My wife is losing sight in one of her eyes.”
“Lambu!” Munshi calls out to Adil. A mini truck of tanned split-hide has just arrived and they have to unload it. “We don’t have to do anything to this hide. It’s already processed. Split-hide is considered inferior to regular hide so big factories are often in a hurry to clear their stock. Babu Bhai buys it and sells it at a marked-up price,” says Munshi.
Chand clambers on to the truck and stands among the slippery hide, throwing the lot towards Adil, who in turn hurls it inside one of the four 5-foot-deep water pits just inside the gates. Slap-slosh-slap-slosh, these land in the water.
At 1 pm, they huddle near the drum for lunch. Adil’s mother has packed him fried eggs and chapattis. He reaches out for some rice from Nagdev’s tiffin. “I like rice a lot, no matter how it is cooked.”
A mini-truck drives up to the gates. Munshi calls out to Adil again — “Lambu, naya order aya hai, maal chadwa”. This time, they have to load the buffalo ears onto the truck. After about half an hour, they go back to the drums that are still spinning.
Work goes on for a few more hours, during which some more mini trucks come and go. Munshi asks Adil and the others to prepare the drums for overnight rolling. One of them usually stays back to watch over the drums. Today, it is Nagdev’s turn. The workers get
Rs 25 for every extra hour they put in after 5 pm. Adil earns Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 every month.
It’s 6.30 pm. A lone bulb comes on above the water pit. Babu Bhai and his sons and grandsons have long retreated into their home. “Pack up,” announces Munshi. Adil and the others wash their hands and legs with soap and water. Guddu contemplates a bath and drops the idea.
Back at his one-room house, Adil sits on a bare wooden cot sipping the tea his mother Naseema Begum has made him. A small Futec television set sits on an old fridge. “He got this TV and a mobile phone as dowry. But the television set broke down because of high-voltage and the phone stopped working after he dropped it in water,” says Nassema.
Pointing out that Adil had dropped out of Class VI to support her — she worked as a help in homes after his father died in 1984 — Naseem adds, “Work at the tannery is tough. The owners should have at least given him a bicycle.”
Later though, sitting on the bed, she lapses into shayari to illustrate why her son can’t escape his fate: “Likha pardes muqaddar me, watan ko yaad kya karna; jahan bedard hakim ho, wahan faryad kya karna.”
Source:: Indian Express