Unlikely Covid fillip boosts famous scissors market in Meerut
New Delhi: It is a warm October afternoon and Mohammad Anis is giving the finishing touch to a pair of scissors at his small factory in Bazar Peramal in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
There are a large bunch of scissors in front of him on the floor and Anis is moving the blades of all scissors near his right ear. “The sound of the movement of the blades tell me if a pair of scissors is working fine,” he says. “These are busy days for us. This consignment needs to be delivered by evening today. The Meerut scissors are in demand again.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has unexpectedly given a new lease of life to Meerut’s 350-year-old scissors industry, which faced a downward spiral in the past two decades due to the growing popularity of Chinese scissors. Many manufacturing units in the city shut down over the years, with thousands losing jobs. But now many scissors manufacturers such as Anis say that demand for their product has gone up by over 50% in the past one and half years.
The reasons, they say, include the declining Chinese imports in the wake of the government’s push for AatmaNirbhar Bharat mission, and also the fact that millions of Indians decided to shun barbers and cut their own hair during the Covid-19 induced lockdown.
“After the first lockdown last year, the demand for hair-cutting scissors went up five times and the factories here worked day and night for months and still could not meet the demand. This sudden spike did not come from barbers but common people who were not ready to visit their neighbourhood salons because of the fear of catching the infection,” says Tanseer Saifi, who runs Shalimar Scissors Company. “Before the pandemic, I was making 100 scissors a day, now I was making about 200 on an average,” says Abid Hussain, who runs Mission Scissors.
But in Meerut, India’s largest scissors manufacturing hub, no one talks about scissors with greater passion than Anis. His forefathers, he says, introduced scissors making in Meerut in the 1750s. His late father, Rais Ahmed, was a local celebrity, whose hand-made scissors were much in demand not just in India but also in west Asia.
He pulls out a catalogue -cum-price list from 1896 of General Scissors Factory set up by his great-great grandfather. “Even in those days, we used to be very professional and sent these lists to traders in India and abroad,” says the soft-spoken Anis, showing us several letters from the 1950s and the 1960s from west Asian countries such as Saudi Arabia.
“Most well-known tailors in India have also been using our scissors for decades. In fact, some of them have been using the same scissors; when their blades blunt, they courier them to us for sharpening. Chinese scissors are only better in look, they do not cut with the same finesse and are not as durable as ours.”
Bobby Grover of Grover Tailors in Khan Market says his tailoring shop has been using Meerut scissors since the 1960s . What makes them special, he says is their cutting edge and their durability. “There are pairs of Meerut scissors that we have been using for 30 years. We just sharpen them from time to time,” says Grover whose shop has tailored suits for former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush when they were visiting India.
“The handles of these scissors are so well designed that they hardly leave marks on your hands even after decades of use,” he said.
Meerut produces a vast variety of scissors -- tailor scissors, barber scissors, paper, hardening and wire cutting scissors, among others, and they all are made manually with the help of basic cutting, grinding, drilling and polishing machines. Each type has specific blades, weight and length, and is either tapered or blunt-tipped, depending on its use. The size varies, from six inches to 14 inches, and a pair of Meerut scissors are sold at anything between Rs.80 to Rs.2,500 depending on the size.
The scissors are made of carbon steel sourced from scrap metal found in cars, buses, trucks and railways, and are plated with nickel or chromium to make them rust-proof. Meerut’s scissors are known for their strength, sharpness, smoothness and durability, says Anis.
“It is the meticulous handwork that makes Meerut’s scissors far superior to mass-produced Chinese ones.Not just top tailors , but also barbers across the country use or have used our scissors,” says Anis. “Unlike Chinese scissors, ours can be repaired and reused for decades. All they require is sharpening, ” says Chaman, his brother.
The scissors industry in Meerut has about 400 units and employs over 60,000 craftsmen. Manufacturers will tell you that making scissors is an art involving several artisans. “A pair of scissors is made in 14 steps and pass through at least 20 people, each person with expertise in a different processes such as cutting, welding, sharpening, polishing,” says Abdul Aziz, a contract manufactures of scissors.
“My orders have doubled compared to pre-pandemic days. A lot of our artisans turned rickshaw pullers and daily-wage labourers because of lack of work. But now with demand for Meerut scissors increasing, many of them are returning to their old vocation. During the pandemic, it has been proved that if we curb the Chinese imports, it can really help boost demand for domestic manufacturing,” adds Aziz.
In 2013, Meerut scissors made the cut for Geographical Indication tag (GI), which is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.
Abdullah Saeed of M Saeed Scissors Works, says that there is a need for Meerut to modernize its manufacturing processes. “After initial gains during the pandemic and anti-Chinese sentiments, Chinese scissors are again making a comeback slowly. So, ultimately we would have learn to compete with Chinese products and that would not be possible unless we adopt technology and move from manual to machine manufacturing,” says Saeed. In 2009, the government decided to set up a common facility centre (CFC) with the latest machines to help local scissors manufacturers adopt the technology. “Nothing has come out of it so far,” says Saeed.
“The rising cost of raw material and high GST will soon undo the gains we have made during the pandemic. I am hoping against hope that the scissors industry’s good times are not short-lived,” says Tanseer.