PAMPORE: On the busy Srinagar-Jammu highway, next to the saffron fields in Pampore, Raju, 12, works ceaselessly, toiling all day long in rain and in sun to put an end to his poverty woes.
He sits for hours on ground to weave coarse date leaves into finished and beautiful brooms that reach the length and breadth of valley.
Originally from Rajasthan, Raju has travelled hundreds of Kilometres with his family to earn a livelihood by making brooms.
Under the shadow of a tree, quite next to the busy road, Raju puts all his efforts to make a living.
We have come here to earn, we cant rest a tired Raju said as a car whistling past the makeshift tents raises a column of dust enveloping everything around.
The material for making broom comes from Rajasthan and it takes a good amount of work and expertise to turn it into a broom.
The broom is made in many phases at it passes from one hand to another. Once the raw material reaches this place, these people start tearing up the small leaves. We do it during night, says Anand, father of Raju. It takes hours and hurts our hands. We have no other option.
The price at which the broom is sold in Kashmir is comparatively three times more than its cost in Rajasthan and this bring Raju and many families like his to the valley. In Rajasthan, a broom costs not more than ten rupees and dealers pay us 5-6 rupees for each broom. But here, dealers pay us 14-15 rupees on each broom, he adds.
These people love the art of broom making. Children instead of playing are fascinated by the raw material as they run after their mothers and fathers who are busy piling this stuff in their makeshift tents.
These people are poor as one could see some children, half-naked and with visible ribs, cry after injuring themselves while carrying the sharp edged date leaves.
Food is costly .So we only breastfeed the infants. It sometimes becomes impossible for the elders to get meals for two times a day, mother of a visibly weak baby said.
The leaves arent meant just for earning a livelihood; it comforts these families at night as they would sleep on brooms. It is painful as it leaves its marks on their sunburned bodies, back and shoulders. It feels as if they have been scratched with horny bushes.
The broom makers are among the 4-lakh immigrant workers in Kashmir alone and 60,000 in Srinagar. Today, the estimates suggest that there might be more than 5 lakh such workers spread across the valley. The reason, many cite, are due to high wages paid and a kind attitude of employers towards these workers here.
Meanwhile, Raju is busy making the handles for some brooms. His skills are profound, and at this age, he works like a capacity of a man. To make a handle, he needs a rubber rope, aluminium foil and covering. All these elements come from scratch or from rag pickers.
Rubber rope is extracted from a tyre tube of a truck. Women acquire the rubber by skilfully cutting a tyre of vehicle with razor blades. They are such skilled in this art that all the material they acquire from tyres is piled in just a blink of an eye.
Raju and others like him deal with handle making. He puts one end of rubber rope between his toes and the other end between his teeth. The covering (leftovers of fast food packages) is wrapped at the end of the handle.
Deftly, he tides a rubber rope over the wrapping while swinging his arms, and concealing the sharp edges of leaves beneath. Slowly when the handle begins to take its shape, he releases the other end of rope from his toes and with his teeth, he cuts it apart and knots the two ends. Furnishing a fine handle for the broom.
He then ties aluminium strips between the leaves, parting the two ends like hair braids. Hundred brooms a day, he says with a frown on his face.
At last the loose parts and unwanted parts are hammered out and the broom is ready to be sold.
After such a hectic process, the only meal for them is a plain bread with raw onions. After meals, children would help mothers in beating of brooms.
Parvati, aunt of Raju, handles the beating brooms with some help from children. Nails nailed on a wooden bar is used to remove the hard edges and make broom lighter in weight and spread out. She would raise broom, and thud it on the bar for hundred times at least before passing the broom ready to be sold to the passengers on board the buses and other parts of market in the valley.
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