inside scissors bazaar in Meerut, India

ByJames I. Robertson

Apr 9, 2022

Under the light of a dim light bulb, with the smell of chemicals and metal dust filling the air, a craftsman sits cross-legged, meticulously carving the blades of a pair of scissors.

Two others seated on a stool grind the blades, russet sparks fly around them. Another elderly craftsman clicks on a near-ready pair of scissors, listening for the sounds that will tell his well-trained ears whether a pair is working well or not.

Sharp quality

Tanseer Saifi from Shalimar Scissors shows The National around his unit. He is the fifth generation member of the family scissor-making business, which was started by his grandfather almost a century ago.

Saifi grew up watching her father work and learn the trade in the bustling industrial town of Meerut in India. Located 100 kilometers from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Meerut has been home to the ancient cottage industry of hand-forged scissors for over 300 years.

The handles are so well designed that they never leave marks on your hands, and the handle exerts power and precision in cutting

Hamid Bhai, tailor in Chennai

It may be apocryphal, but the story – at least in the back streets of Meerut – goes that in 1654 a local blacksmith put two swords together when he wanted to cut leather, thus bringing to light the first pair of scissors to humanity. Craftsmanship developed during the Mughal era, with the skill being passed down from generation to generation.

Meerut scissors are also said to have their origins in the town’s penchant for eating paan or betel leaves, as a betel nut cutter needed razor-sharp blades.

To this day, the city’s Kainchi Bazaar resounds with the sounds of pounding and grinding. The scissor market has over 250 small units employing over 70,000 people who manufacture up to 16 varieties of scissors. These are then shipped across the country and overseas.

Meerut’s scissors are known for their cutting precision and have been used for centuries by tailors, barbers, industrial garment and leather goods units, offices and private homes. A popular saying in Meerut emphasizes the long life and quality of the scissors produced here: “Dada le potaa barpe”, which means something bought by the grandfather which can still be used by the grandson.

Each pair goes through a series of processes from sharpening and welding to polishing. Unlike other “use and throw away” scissors, the ones that come out of Meerut can be resharpened and reused an unlimited number of times, and can cut through many folds of fabric.

A laborious process

Working conditions are plagued with issues such as poor ventilation, low margins and unsafe machinery.  Photo: Shalimar scissors, Meerut

The pieces are ergonomically designed with brass handles fused to the blades. Making these scissors is an art that involves a range of artisans with different skills.

“The handles are so well designed that they never leave marks on your hands, and the grip exerts power and precision in cutting,” says Hamid Bhai, a tailor in Chennai who has used these scissors for decades.

All parts of Meerut scissors are recycled in some way

Aadil Qureshi, artisan at Diamond Scissors

“What sets these scissors apart is that they are made from recycled scrap metal. All of the parts that go into making a pair of Meerut scissors are recycled in some way. The blades are made from recycled carbon steel which is scrap metal salvaged from railroads, buses, trucks and the automotive industry, and they are plated with nickel or chrome so they won’t rust not,” says Aadil Qureshi of Diamond Scissors, another unit on the market launched in the 1980s.

“Handles are usually made of metal alloys that are prepared by recycling old utensils. The two blades are held together by adjustable metal screws, and the blades are arched in such a way that they achieve friction and tension between the two edges.

“Our scissors can be used for years with just a little resharpening. There are up to 22 hands a pair of scissors go through in its manufacturing cycle and, with the exception of a few machines like grinders, they are made by hand. We make scissors in sizes to suit every need, from household to tailors and barbers,” says Saifi.

Most craftspeople learned from their mentors or employers through the popular “ustaad-apprentice” system. In 2013, Meerut scissors received a geographical indication label, which is a sign that certifies that a product has a specific geographical origin and possesses special qualities, so that no duplicates can be passed off as the product. original.

The town’s craftsmen make scissors for different purposes, from paper and fabric to thread cutting. Each type has a specific length, weight, and blade size, and the price ranges from 100 Indian rupees to 1,000 Indian rupees ($1 to $13).

While the men do all the work involved in making the scissors, the women are employed in packaging and quality control. Most of the workers are paid a salary of 200 Indian rupees to 400 Indian rupees per day for this backbreaking work.

Take on the challenge

The manufacture of Meerut scissors has been plagued with problems lately, despite the pandemic offering a glimmer of hope.

Small factories and workshops have frequent power cuts and poor ventilation. Workers often suffer from respiratory diseases because they inhale metal dust particles daily; others suffer cuts and injuries from dangerous operations, such as sharpening and welding.

In recent years, fragile but cheaper machine-made scissors from China and other markets have taken over. “Chinese scissors have a better finish and an elegant look, but only last a year compared to ours, which can last up to 10 years,” says Saifi. “Their price is attractive, only around 200 rupees, and they are taking our business away from us.

“However, during the Covid19 lockdown, when Chinese scissors could not be purchased, our demand increased in many ways as people had to cut their hair at home rather than in closed salons.”

However, the younger generation does not want to get into this business because of its low margins. Only a handful of young people are currently trained to carry on this legacy.

The price of raw materials such as brass has also risen in recent months, alongside an increase in India’s Goods and Services Tax rate. At present, more than 50% of Kainchi Bazaar units remain closed.

“We have done a lot [requests] the government to help us by increasing the import tax on Chinese scissors and let this ancient craft survive,” says Saifi, who is also trying to modernize and market Shalimar scissors via Instagram. “Until then, we can only continue to do what we have done for generations and live in hope.”

Updated: April 09, 2022, 04:26

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