Social Deprivation among Muslims in Lock Industry Aligarh: A Study


Sadaf Nasir

Research Scholar, Dept. of Sociology and Social Work, AMU, Aligarh




This paper is preliminary based on both primary and secondary sources. The objective of the present paper is what is the socio-economic status of the Muslim lock workers in Aligarh? And to know the impact of globalization among the Muslim locks workers in Aligarh. I have chosen Aligarh as the area of my research. This is a district of western Uttar Pradesh. Where eighty per cent of Muslims are engaged in the lock industry, majority of them are ajlaf. They are incredibly expert in making a variety of locks. These locks are sent in other states of India and abroad. Most of them live below the poverty line, are victims of pervasive discrimination. Here social deprivation may defined as the process and situation in which Muslim lock workers is excluded from its general stream with regard to the requirements and necessities of normal life. There could be numerous determinants for this state of affair, the major one being nothing other than poverty. The vicious circle of poverty, social exclusion and social backwardness is multi-causal i.e. they affect each other. Social exclusion creates its own culture in turn, sustains and perpetuates exclusion. Globalization is damaging economic base of Muslim lock workers. The globalization has added new dimensions to the vulnerability of India’s downtrodden by exacerbating their social exclusion, and making large segments of other social groups also vulnerable and excluded. The famous lock industry of Aligarh, encompassing nearly one and half century of long history, is struggling hard to compete with international players in the era of today’s globalization. As a result, its exports are almost nil. Large number of Muslim lock workers has lost jobs in the past few years in face of cheaper Chinese locks. Finally, this paper also attempts to explore the possible measures to rejuvenate this industry. If this industry has to survive in the present era of Globalization, the upliftment and modernization of this industry is a must.


KEY WORDS: Poverty, Lock Industry, deprivation, Globalization, Muslims, Ajlaf).




The present paper is an attempt to trace the deprivation among Muslims in lock industry of Aligarh. This paper is preliminary based on both primary and secondary sources. The objective of the paper is to know the socio-economic status and the impact of globalization among Muslim lock workers in Aligarh. Aligarh Muslims live in a society that is highly stratified in a dual system of hierarchy. On the one hand it is ranked according to class-where each is classified according, to his position in the organization of production, and where and upward mobility is an important criterion of such ranking. On the other hand there is a hierarchy of status, which is further sub-divided into a status category (zat) and a status group (bradari) (Mann 1992:38).



As ranked status group, bradaries from a hierarchy based initially on descent and occupation. Those engaged in manual labour are ranked lower than those in service occupations. Ranking on the basis of ancestry, Muslims in Aligarh may be categorized as ashraf or sharaf (noble born), ajlaf (mean and lowly) and arzal (excluded). Ashraf means ‘noble’ and includes all undoubted descendants of foreigners, either Sayyad, Shaikh, Mughal or Pathan, as well as descendants of higher Hindu castes such as Muslim Rajputs (Hasnain 2007:34). All other Muslims including the occupational groups and all converts of lower ranks, are known by the contemptuous terms, ‘ajlaf,’ ‘wretches’ or ‘mean people’: they are also called kamina or itar (Lelyveld 1978:21). Clean occupational castes, such as Julaha (weavers), Darzi (tailors), Qassab (butchers), Hajjam (barbers), Kunjra (green grocer), Mirasi (bards, singers and musicians), Manihar (bangle makers), Dhunia (cotton carders), Gaddi (graziers, milkmen), etc. were included in the category of Ajlaf (mean) (Hasnain 2007:34). Despite their conversion to Islam, the social and economic conditions of the mass of the ajlaf Muslims hardly changed, and they remained largely tied down to their traditional occupations as artisans, peasants and labourers (Sikand 2004:49). The third category of Arzal (literally very mean) includes the unclean or ritually polluting castes such as Bhangi of Mehtar (sweepers and scavengers) (Hasnain 2007:34).


I have chosen Aligarh as the area of my research. This is a district of western Uttar Pradesh. Where eighty per cent of Muslims are engaged in the lock industry, majority of them are ajlaf. They are incredibly expert in making a variety of locks. These locks are sent in other states of India and abroad. Most of them live below the poverty line, are victims of pervasive discrimination. Exclusion and discrimination are processes through which individuals and groups are wholly or partially excluded from full participation in economic activities. Here social exclusion may defined as the process and situation in which Muslim lock workers is excluded from its general stream with regard to the requirements and necessities of normal life. The deprivation of this group is associated with the historical processes of economic and social exclusion and discrimination based on religion.



Muslims form the largest minority in India and they are at over 138 million according to 2001 Census. Among the 138 million Muslims, only 31 million reside in Uttar Pradesh which is the most populous state of India with 13% of the total population. India cannot be called an enormous and developed country if its largest minority (i.e. Muslims) remains socio-economically and educationally backward and excluded (GoI 2006:29).


Aligarh is a district of western Uttar Pradesh, situated in the middle portion of Doab, or the land between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers. The principle town in the Aligarh district for the last many centuries has been its headquarters, Aligarh, 126 KM south east of Delhi. It is known till the 18th century by the earlier name of Kol. After the British occupation of Aligarh in September 1803, the present Aligarh district was formed in 1804 (


Aligarh is famous world over for Muslim University and lock industry. Aligarh’s locks have provided security to the doors of million houses and innumerable vehicles. The name of lock has become synonymous with Aligarh in such a way that if the name of Aligarh is not mentioned with the locks, customer does not feel secure. The total population of Aligarh district According to the 2001 Census is 6, 58, 165. Near about 2 lakh people are associated, directly or indirectly, with at least 5,000 lock manufacturing units. Majority of artisans in this industry is of Muslims whereas ownership of big manufacturing units and units and business houses are both of Hindus and Muslims. Muslims artisans manufacture about 80% lock of Aligarh. They are labourer and produce goods for big players. However the industry has contributed in the economic development of Muslims of the town. It has also contributed significantly to the state and national economy. This is the fact that Muslims are poorest and marginalized community of India but wherever they are associated with skills of producing goods, their economic conditions have improved. It is therefore; faith of Aligarh’s Lock Industry would determine economic conditions of many Muslims of the town (Saha 2006:216).



The lock industry of Aligarh was started in 1860 by the Postal Department. In the early years, the making of locks was a village industry and locks or components of locks were made by the artisans in his home, using his family labour. Many families, who found it difficult to support themselves only by agriculture, started making locks. As the demand for locks increased, the lock-makers found it difficult to commute to the city and many families sold their lands and shifted to the city. But these were essentially small village craftsmen (Burra 1987: 1118).

There are numerous lock works in the city, as many as 27 being in existence in 1907, and others are to be founded at Iglas, Hathras and elsewhere in the district. Two firms at Aligarh employ over two hundred hands, and one is a joint stock company, Known as the pioneer lock works and general Metal Foundry, started several years ago by Messers Johnson and Company; while the other is known as the sparking lock works. The locks are of a high quality, and are imported in very large numbers to all parts of India. Other well known firms are those of Nabi Bakhsh and karam Ilahi and of Hafiz Inayatullah and Abdullah. The output at Aligarh is estimated at about 500,000 locks per annum valued at Rs. 2, 76,000, and the eleven. Iglas works produced locks to the value of Rs. 30,000 (Nevill 1926:61-62).


But a real impetus to the development of lock industry in Aligarh city came in 1926 when the Government of the country established metal workshop to train artisans in lock making. Soon many artisans began manufacturing lock and its components at their homes with the help of their family members including children. Many families living in the adjoining villages of Aligarh city also took up this work out of their economic compulsions of insufficient income from agriculture. With this the lock industry spread to surrounding villages too. A majority of lock makers at that time were Muslims. With the partition of the country in 1947, most of Muslim master craftsmen are artisans migrated to Pakistan leaving a void and creating a slump in the lock industry. But this situation did not continue for long. The Punjabi Hindus migrated from Pakistan to Aligarh soon realized the potential of this industry and started producing locks with the help of locally available skilled labour. The social composition of lock makers changed but production of locks on mass scale was resumed. The Government also helped the industry by offering various incentives. The industry emerged as the most important industry of the town offering employment to a large number of people and producing lock worth crores of rupees. Today locks of different types are made in Aligarh, sent to different areas in the country and exported to many countries of the world.


The lock industry in Aligarh city mainly comes under small scale and cottage sectors. A large part of it comprises household units and workshops. They are largely unorganized and unregistered. There are some relatively big and semi unorganized units too but their number is very small. The location pattern of this industry is such that while the big units are located in the industrial Estate and on the outskirts of the city the smaller units are scattered all over the city. There is lower, a large concentration of smaller units in selected mohallas as already mentioned. In these units, the various processes of lock making are carried out mostly by manual method. They also employ bulk of the child labour force.  In this industry majority of child labourers comes from the poorer sections of society especially Muslim community. Higher levels of poverty among socially excluded groups translate, as might be expected, into poorer levels of human development in terms of both health and education.


Locks are made in Aligarh both by traditional method and modern methods. The traditional method is mostly used in making heavy locks of brass and iron. Under this method the lock maker designs a lock and obtains an order from the trader. The trader while placing order also advances some amount or a loan to the lock maker to buy essential raw materials and components. The lock-maker then gives the raw material to the moulder along with a model. The moulder castes all the pieces as per specification and returns them to the lock maker who then files them. The lock-maker then assembles locks with the help of other essential components like the U-shaped bar, springs, keys etc. bought from the market and delivers them to the trades. The traders get the locks finally polished and engraved with his brand name before marketing them.

The smaller locks are made in factories with modern method of production. Power presses are used for cutting, bending, making grooves, smoothing and piercing holes in locks and keys. The rusted components of locks are polished on buffing machines or given dhol or drum polishing. Generally the parts of locks that are visible and require electroplating are first polished on buffing machine and the parts which are visible given dhol or drum polishing. In case visible parts are not electroplated, they are spray painted.


The different processes of lock-making are carried out in different units. Generally, cutting bending and grooves making works are done in relatively big units with the help of power presses and the processes like buffing, electroplating, spray painting, assembling etc. are carried out in small workshop and household units. Different units specialize in different works. Factories often get the parts manufactured outside on contract basis. The contractors get the works done with the help of sub-contractors (Wahab, 2001: 31-33).



Globalization is damaging economic base of Indian Muslims. It is a process of making poor, poorer and rich richer. It increases socio-economic gap between poor and rich communities. So, as we have seen earlier, Muslims are becoming more poor and backward compared to Hindus. Many weavers of Banaras and Easters Uttar Pradesh have been forced to leave their occupations and migrate to different parts of the country in search of employment. This has happened because of declining weaving industry due to globalization. Gautam has recorded same phenomenon in the lock industry of Aligarh which is under severe threat from Chinese lock. No artisan and small scale entrepreneur including Muslims are in a position to compete with products of other countries in the market. Therefore, future of artisans and small scale industry appear to be bleak. If adequate measures are not taken by the government to protect interest of artisans and handicrafts, rich heritage of Indian crafts would not merely be lost but also millions of skilled workers and small entrepreneurs be reduced to the level of casual workers (Waheed 2006:29).


Sociologists have shown that potential for conflict peaks in a society when rapidly rising expectations are not met. It is quite possible that India, with its lethargic job creation in manufacturing and increasing conflicts along urban-rural and Hindu-Muslims axes will not be able to sustain a focus on reforms (Sandhu 2006).


Two interrelated processes are taking place among the marginalized communities. On the one hand, they are continued to be subjected to exclusion, deprivation and discrimination. On the other hand, they have been protesting against the oppression and exploitation they are subjected to and are asserting their rights to be citizens of the nation and members of the society like anyone else. It is these interrelated processes which have led to identity formation and assertion among them. Various stakeholders need to realize this fact and align with the excluded in their struggle for inclusion and equity (Louis 2008:12).


The famous lock industry of Aligarh, encompassing nearly one and half century of long history, is struggling hard to compete with international players in the era of today’s globalization. As a result, its exports are almost nil. The small industrialists associated with lock industry in Aligarh are finding it hard to make a living. The industry, which has always provided secure guarantee, now finds itself on the edifice of insecurity. Small scale sector of India contributes 33% of India’s export, but Aligarh lock industry cuts a sorry figure in exporting their products range. Even in local market also, 6 to 7% of locks are coming from China, which is a serious concern for Aligarh Lock Industries (Jain 2003).


Indian economy's globalization is based upon services, which are more capital intensive than labour intensive. India's IT and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) services sector employs only a mere million out of a workforce of 470 million. The manufacturing sector, on the other hand, provides employment to seven million as compared to 100 million in China. The following case studies suggest similar trends in the Aligarh Lock Industry. In urban India Hindu-Muslim tensions have often resulted in riots. The 140 million Indian Muslims second largest Muslim population after Indonesia face higher poverty: with 40 percent Muslims versus 22 percent Hindus living on six dollars or less per month. A large number of urban Muslims work as artisans, because artisan trades came to India in wake of Muslim invasions from Central Asia (Sandhu 2006).



Case 1: Muneeza Begum 40 year old woman from Saifi community is passing her life in a rented room for which she has to pay Rs. 300 per month. It is located in ward no. 76, Gali no. 7 of Mehfooz Nagar area of Shahjamal. She got married at an early age of 12. Now she is having three daughters Gulafshan, Hina and Tabassum and three sons Faheem, Nadeem and Zubair respectively. For the past one year she involved in the work of Lever Chirai. Her eldest daughter Gulafshan who is ten year old also helps her in that work and hardly gets Rs 5 for 1000 lever chirai. Apart from this work she also sews trousers for which she got only 50 paisa for each. Earlier she was suffered from measles and she had to spend her money on her illness. She says that it is impossible for her sometimes to arrange two time meals in a day. When she wake up in the morning she became horrified with the feeding her children. She wants to send all of them to school but due to lack of money she is unable to send them. Her husband involves in the work of carpentry and earns approximately 60 to 80 Rs in a day. One of his heart’s valve is blocked and he spends all money on his illness. The family living in a miserable condition. Muneeza also let me know that twice in a month one Sahukar came from Allahabad and the people of that area contact him with the help of a middleman in order to borrow money from him.

Case 2: Allahbakhsh 40 year old man, who looks more than 50 years lives in Telipada, gali (street) no. 3 belongs to Alvi Sayyad community. He was involved in the work of lever chirai. He has six daughters namely; Gulafshan, Hina, Darakhshan, Kahkashan, Nisha and Neha and four sons whose names were Mobin, Chandbabu, Mustakeem and Musheer. Amongst his 10 children 4 goes to school and after coming back from school they help his father in his work. In order to look after his family he also pulls a rickshaw whenever he returned back from a factory. So by adding his money he earns 3000 to 4000 Rs monthly. His eldest daughter who got married two years back suffered from tuberculosis and her husband leave her back to home. So Allahbakhsh also has to take care of her by spending some money on her illness.


Case 3: Naushad, used to work in a lock industry and earns 500 in a week. When I met him he was engaged in nickel polishing of handles. He is 29 year old and his wife who was 4 year younger than him became the victim of fate. Two year back she died during the delivery of her 4th child. She gave birth to a baby boy who also died at that time; due to lack of money Naushad was unable to take her to the hospital and failed to save his loving wife. Now he is living in gali (street) no. 20 of Shahjamal with his ailing parents and three children. His eldest son Arbaaz who is 9 year old goes to school. The two remaining children one son and one daughter are staying at home. It is the duty of Naushad’s mother to look after to them. She is also not well because she is suffering from high blood pressure and at an old age she also has to take care of her husband who is paralysed and is on bed. The family is living in a double rented room with a little open space by paying Rs. 300 per month. He is planning to get married for the sake of his family and decided not to involve his sons in this work because he thinks that if they start working them they will get less money and would not be able to save their wife like him.


Case 4: Mohammmad Rafiq, a resident of Mahfooz Nagar (Shahjamal) is 18 yrs of age belongs to Alvi community. He is getting 1200/- monthly by working in the process of polishing of locks. He started working in this industry since nine years of age. He is the only earner of the family in which six children are living. He also has to take care of his father who is very old and is suffering from arthritis. At an early age, he is burdened with the responsibilities of his family members. He is living in a kuchcha house with two rooms. They live below poverty line and have to manage water from the municipal hand pump. He wanted to study but due to his adverse economic condition, he could not go to school.


Lock industry is quite old and well established in Aligarh but with the sprawling of city, these industries got residential right next to them. U.P. Government provided a separated industrial township for these hazardous industries. But administrative failed to move these industries out the city.


Like most Indian town, Aligarh had shortfall of basic facilities-problem of housing had become acute due to high rate of population growth. City has poor infrastructure, both in terms of quality and quantity for domestic water supply, people prefer bore well more than municipal connection, as it is more reliable. Because of topography (bowl shaped), stagnant pools and flooding of low lying areas is quite common. Herby sanitation is by problem.


Sewage and sanitation is mostly missing, urban facilities absent in many of the new developments also. Child labour is the worst aspects of city’s industries. They are engaged in lock, brass and metal works. Electric supply is inadequate as per the requirements of the city and is a major concern. Apart from University area and few new settlements, overall state of urban comfort is missing ( Apart from this low level of research and development, poor adaptability in changing situations, non-availability of technologically trained human resource, less concern on production cost, lack of access to technological information are the other reasons for dismal performance of Aligarh Lock Industry (Saha 2006:217-218).


The socio-economic problems of the Muslim lock workers in Aligarh have been highlighted. Since, last nine-ten years, lock industry of Aligarh has been suffering from decline. Consequently, workers are facing big challenges for their survival. Challenges to lock workers are from both endogenous and exogenous sources. Governmental indifference to their problems or lack of proper policies and programmes and their poor implementation for ameliorating the conditions of lock workers are some of the endogenous factors for declining conditions of the lock workers. On the other hand globalizing economy may be said as exogenous factors, devastating economy of the Muslim lock workers.


Finally, it may be concluded that in the lock industry majority of Muslims are merely workers on daily wages, without safety and security and also they are facing big challenges for their survival. They produce goods for others and are vulnerable to various forms of exploitation. Due to globalization and liberalization, the economic conditions of Muslims are expected to worsen since only highly competitive and skilled individuals and industries are expected to survive in such an economy. In order to improve conditions of poor artisans and making them self reliant, Government has formulated and implemented various policies and programmes. In reality various schemes exist only on papers which are not properly implemented. Considering the present economic condition of Muslims workers and problems being faced by them the situation is alarming and calls for immediate attention. There is a need to chalk out short term and long term plans in a systematic and organized way. If adequate measures are not taken by the government to protect the interests of the Muslim Lock workers especially in the unorganized Lock Industry, thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers and small entrepreneurs who are ajlafs and arzals (dalit Muslims) would be reduced to the level of casual workers. Similarly, health is the most pressing issue facing the workers in the lock industry. It is self-evident that immediate action should be taken to alleviate the health problems of the workers in this industry. Overall, health cannot be viewed independently of the socio-economic system and improvements in health conditions will depend primarily on improvements in the workers' quality of life. Hence health programmes in the lock industry have to direct linkages with programmes for protected water supply, environmental sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, education, family planning, maternity and child welfare. Only when these issues are addressed will the Muslim workers who engage in the lock industry have any guarantee of a socially just life.



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Received on 05.04.2011

Accepted on 24.05.2011

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