Ghata/Badshahpur, Gurugram: It’s just after Holi and the Bharat Bartan Store in old Badshahpur, Gurugram, is selling red and green plastic moulds that make the season’s most popular sweet, gujiya. The moulds, though, bear the ‘Made in China’ stamp.
The infiltration of Chinese goods in the market sees a significant upsurge during the festival seasons of Holi and Diwali. But 14 March, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) issued a call to boycott and burn Chinese goods across 1,500 locations, in response to China obstructing a bid in the UN to enlist Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist for the fourth time.
The call may be exceedingly difficult to implement, because from 100-rupee earphones to bedazzled shoes, small glass sculptures to the endless rows of plastic pichkaris (water guns) before Holi, India’s shelves are always stocked with Chinese goods.
Shopkeepers are caught in a dilemma — a few shops down the road from Bharat Bartan Store, Ram Bhardwaj of Bhardwaj Gifting Gallery sums it up, saying he has to “meet the demand of the customers” for Chinese goods.
“If the government wants to ban Chinese products, then we are more than happy to comply, but as long as the customers keep demanding them and they are available to sell, we also have to support our families,” Bhardwaj says.
Om Prakash, 22, who runs a small electronics shop Om Communication in Ghata village on the outskirts of Gurugram, says it would “severely impact” his business, since more than half his inventory of mobile phone covers, chargers and earphones is Chinese-made.
Indian traders’ allegiance to Chinese goods is purely a matter of economic convenience and availability. Every single one of the dozen shopkeepers who spoke to ThePrint complained of inferior quality, lack of warranty, and the inability to return damaged Chinese products to the manufacturer.
“The Chinese products aren’t that great. But because they’re cheap and available and customers want better prices, we keep them in stock,” says Mantajul Islam, a trader who sells Chinese stereo systems and small kitchen equipment in Ghata village on the outskirts of Gurugram, after sourcing the goods in bulk from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk.
Rinku Khatana of Balaji Communications marks up his Chinese products by up to 250 per cent, selling a pair of 100-rupee earphones for Rs 350. “On company (Indian) products, the profit margins are a lot lower and we don’t benefit that much,” he says.
“Chinese products are of inferior quality, everyone knows that. But they’re cheap, so what can we do?”
The press release issued 14 March quoted CAIT general secretary Praveen Khandelwal as saying: “Traders will boycott the goods of countries standing against the national security of India.” It called for the Indian government to “immediately impose a custom duty ranging from 300 per cent to 500 per cent” on Chinese imports, and for a strict investigation to be conducted at Indian ports on each import from China, as goods from the neighbouring country are “highly under-valued”.
Sanjeev Grover, who runs a mom-and-pop department store, firmly stands behind CAIT’s statement.
“Jo humare desh ke saath nahin, hum unke saath nahin (We will not stand with those who stand against our country),” he says, repeatedly stressing on the fact that he has “absolutely no Chinese products” in his store.
Grover, 39, has an M.Sc. in communications from Guru Jambheshwar University in Hisar, Haryana, and says he procures the stock for his shop “completely online”. Whether it is Amazon or GoFresh, Grover’s tech-savvy approach permits him to browse a series of ‘deals’ on the internet, which he says is how he maintains a profit margin.
However, he is surprised to learn that the MZ fighter-blade lighter in his store is stamped ‘Made in China’.
“I’m looking at this label for the first time,” he says quietly.
Made in India
Yet, there is also growing awareness among traders when it comes to locally-sourced ‘Made in India’ products.
An increasing number of shopkeepers are shifting their focus to Indian goods, with one example being 18-year-old Manoj Karmakar of Sanjay Communications in Ghata.
Displaying a pair of Chinese earphones, he says if the government were to ban them, he “wouldn’t face such a problem”, because India has started producing its own arsenal of products.
Khatana agrees that a ban on Chinese imports will not necessarily mean a fall in profits. He envisages a higher profit margin for banned products, because “customers will no longer be able to see their prices on the internet, and we will still find a way to buy in them wholesale”, he says.
He also thinks that a fall in supply means he will be able to increase the profit margins of the Indian products he sells, thereby mitigating any negative impact of the ban.
Bunty, manager of the Shaili Boot House in Ghata, says the shop buys Chinese products only because of their ready availability. But the real profit, of around 20 per cent, comes from Indian-made shoes and sandals, compared to 10 per cent from Chinese.
Amit Kumar Prasad, who is buying slippers from the shop, says: “I told him I won’t buy any Chinese products, only Indian for me. They’re better quality and local production is how our country will progress.”