PHOTO FEATURE
A Tale Of Two Tanneries
Two tanneries at Rohta and Shobhapur in UP are run by Dalit tanners. They blame their pitiful work conditions on the caste system, which regards their occupation lowly. The Rohta tannery was never modernised, unlike other industries, and faced extensive damage in an earthquake.
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Shobhapur in Western Uttar Pradesh is a village of Dalit tanners. In this picture, the leather, in sheets, has been strung out to dry in the sun. The sheets are sold to cricket ball makers in Meerut.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Kamal, 55, went to primary school before becoming a tanner like his father. He earns Rs 200-250 a day using a brush made from tree bark to remove hair from hides.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The hide is stacked after being salted to stop decomposition. The stench is awful but Shobhapur's workers have no choice. They cannot afford the cost of modernisation and have been appealing to government for help.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Mahinder, 34, splits hides into two. A softer underskin, once dried, is used to make paint. The 'pradooshan waley'--environmentalists are the bane of Shobhapur's tanners.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The drying softer layer. Shobhapur residents are bitter over living conditions. They want drains, electricity. 'We made our children doctors, engineers, but society doesn't accept a Dalit doctor,' they say.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    With no space to store chemicals, lime lies out in the open. Lime is a naturally-occuring substance, found in the soil everywhere.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Premwati, of Rohta, UP, stitches leather sheets using straw preparatory to tanning. Rohta's tannery was set up by independent India's first government. It is dilapidated from neglect and a recent earthquake.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    In Shobhapur and Rohta there are no godowns for storing any chemicals nor drains to wash away the chemicals.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Tanning is the only business people in Shobhpur know, like these two brothers. Every home has a tanner and a tannery. They resent that the work is called 'unclean' when nothing has been done to make it cleaner.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The Rohta tannery. The stench of leather and open drains overwhelms. The tannery has not been modernised despite pleas. Local farmers want it evicted but the Dalits of Rohta know no other job for ten generations.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Dogs roam freely in the Rohta tannery. This ones legs are permanently dyed from moving around in the tannery.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The tannery at Rohta is bad shape since 20 years. A recent earthquake broke the gates and boundary wall. Dogs roam freely, endangering the tanners.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Rajkumar, a Dalit tanner, takes a water break. The tanners strip down to their underclothes to work as they have no protective gear or work clothes.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Mehar Singh and Vijay watch Rajkumar wash a sheet of leather.The roof and walls of this tannery caved in around ten years ago. Instead of repairs, the workers expect eviction.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The leather is stitched up and hung. Lime and other chemicals are poured into them, then they are left to cure for at least three weeks.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The water drips slowly from the curing leather. Rajesh replenishes the water-chemical mix manually. There is no electricity in Rohta or Shobhapur.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    A worker uses a plastic pail to ferry water to and from the pits. The conditions are arduous and there is no medical assistance available.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    As the chemicals are mixed with water, a noxious vapor forms that clouds the air the tanners breathe. It can cause respiratory ailments and leaves an indelible stench on their unprotected skin and clothes.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    Tanners like Rajkumar are crucial to India's economy--everybody needs leather. 'Our condition is deplorable for we are Dalit. Nobody cares.'
    Photo by Pragya Singh
  • Apr 06, 2017

    The leather strips, once cured, are carried out to dry in the sun. Workers like Mehar Singh are paid by the piece Rs100 is the most they can make in a day.
    Photo by Pragya Singh
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