A life hammered by the sickle’s decline

PARI volunteer Sanket Jain aims to traverse 300 villages across India and, among other stories, produce this feature: a photograph of a rural scene or event and a sketch of that photograph. This is the fourth in the series on PARI. Draw the slider either way to see the photo or sketch in full

Ramling Chavan has rare skills that earn him very little. He makes the sickles used by agricultural labourers in the fields. He also repairs them and keeps them going more decades than we know – and has himself been working for over five decades, since the age of 10, after his father passed away. “I manage to earn no more than Rs. 50 to Rs. 100 a day,” says Ramling.

He is from Karajkheda village of Maharashtra’s Osmanabad district and block. But I shot this photograph of him in Yalgud village in Kolhapur district. He had set up a tent alongside the Kolhapur-Hupari road almost six years ago. At 67, he and several of his community still migrate across at least 300 kilometres seasonally, to make and sell their tools. That journey is usually undertaken around the rabi or kharif agricultural  seasons. Occasionally, it happens at other times of the year as well.

Ramling is from the Ghisadi community, a nomadic tribe. They have long made – yes, by hand and not with machines – spades, axes, sickles, hoes and other tools used in agriculture. But their work is being increasingly sidelined by machine-made goods, and by the growing mechanisation of agriculture.

That is Ramling’s hand you see in the photograph and sketch, turning the sickle in the flames of his tiny makeshift ‘furnace’. “We don’t have a place to stay and this business doesn’t even pay enough to eat food twice a day. And everybody looks down on our community. My condition is so bad, I don’t feel like living anymore,” he says.

Sanket Jain

Sanket Jain is a journalist based in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. He is a 2022 PARI Senior Fellow and a 2019 PARI Fellow.

Other stories by Sanket Jain