The Football Makers of Basti Danishmandan, Jalandhar

by Harleen Kaur

In the fading light of an evening marked by power outages, Basti Danishmandan in Jalandhar West comes alive with a quiet rhythm of skilled hands and steadfast determination. Here, amidst rows of modest homes, every third doorway reveals a scene of industrious stitching. This isn’t just any stitching; it’s the meticulous craft of assembling footballs, a trade that has sustained families for generations.

At 6:15 pm, Neha, a seasoned artisan, sits outside her home, engaged in animated conversation with her neighbor while her fingers deftly manipulate a needle through a semi-stitched football. “It takes me two and a half hours to complete one ball,” she remarks, her voice a blend of pride and practicality. Each football she stitches earns her Rs 80, a sum that, with uninterrupted effort, can yield up to five balls a day—essential income that has supported her family for decades.

Neha’s story resonates across the neighborhood. Her 19-year-old daughter Tanya, a recent addition to the workforce, works alongside her, mastering the simpler rugby balls that fetch Rs 35 each. It’s a skill passed down through the family, with Tanya finding her footing in a craft that balances tradition with practicality.

In Sukhdev’s home nearby, a collection of 20 meticulously stitched footballs bears testament to a collaborative effort involving his wife and grown children. Their fingers are adorned with rubber rings, shielding against the sharp bite of the needle—a small precaution in a labor-intensive process that blends expertise with resilience.

“The PVC football material is much easier to work with now,” Sukhdev explains, reflecting on the evolution of materials over the years. “Compared to leather and synthetic rubber, it saves time and effort, allowing us to produce more.”

This artistry isn’t just a domestic affair. In the Jalandhar West Assembly segment, over 150 companies drive a thriving football manufacturing sector, employing around 15,000 skilled workers like Neha and Sukhdev’s families. Yet, amidst this industrious scene lies an undercurrent of concern. The artisans fear for the future of their craft, passed down from ancestors who brought it from Sialkot in Pakistan. They worry that changing economics and modern manufacturing techniques could render their skills obsolete.

Raj Rani, echoing the sentiments of many, laments the disparity in earnings: “Middlemen profit significantly, earning Rs 140-150 per ball, while we toil away for far less.” Her words highlight the stark reality faced by those who keep this ancient craft alive through their dedication.

As Basti Danishmandan prepares for the upcoming elections on July 10, these artisans hope their voices will be heard, advocating for the preservation of their livelihoods. Their story is not just about footballs; it’s a narrative of resilience, tradition, and the enduring spirit of craftsmanship against the odds.

In the twilight hours of Jalandhar West, as stitching needles pierce through footballs, a community’s legacy unfolds—one stitch at a time.

Harleen Kaur

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