New Delhi: Rampur, a dusty little town in Uttar Pradesh’s Rohilkhand region, has recently been in media focus due to a bitter, personal clash between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Jaya Prada and Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan. But Rampur owes its identity to something more than just a feud — the famed ‘Rampuri’ knives.
These knives, which open with the click of a button, once featured as the centerpiece ‘action’ item in many Bollywood films.
Today, local shopkeepers speak about the imminent death that Rampuri knives face with the growing popularity of Chinese makes, forcing them to slowly abandon it.
The Bollywood fight masters, or action directors as they are now called, loved the item in the ’70s and ’80s, with every second film featuring the knife from Rampur, a town located on the Indo-Nepal border.
Who can ever forget actor Rajkumar’s dialogue from Yash Chopra’s Waqt (1965), waxing eloquent about the Rampuri, “Ye bachchon ke khelne ki cheez nahi, haath kat jaaye toh khoon nikal jaata hai.”
However, with the passage of time, not just the fate of Rampuris in Bollywood films, but its form has changed too.
Earlier, the globally renowned knife was made of wood and iron. Now, the iron component has been replaced by steel. To attract the new generation, its shape has also been changed to imitate pistols, guns and rifles. Due to these changes, the use of Chinese material in making the Rampuri has also increased.
In Rampur’s local markets, two types of knives are sold these days — the famed Rampuri and Chinese knives.
Native seller Shahbez Khan tells ThePrint that the locally-produced knife is a handmade item, and its production takes two to three days. In the same time, several dozens of machine-made Chinese knives can be produced. With their easy-on-the-eye look, the Chinese knives are increasingly becoming the first choice of customers.
Although several variants of Chinese knives are available in the Rampur market, the recently introduced ‘Black Commando’ has become extremely popular in a very short span. Its specially designed grip and punches provide a strong hold.
Other variants such as ‘Steel Torch’ knife and ‘Black Torch’ knife are also popular.
Another popular variant is called ‘AK 47’. This lockable version — rust proof and with sharper edges — is a hit among personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Army.
While Rampur’s market has knives of all sizes, Khan says only a handful of local stores sell the Rampuri now. Khan’s family has been in the business since his grandfather started making these knives from the time of India’s Independence.
Demonetisation was a big blow
Khan says 2016’s demonetisation had a massive impact on the struggling business of producing Rampuris. However, the goods and services tax (GST) had no telling effect.
Locals concur that the downfall in business had started way back, about 15 years ago. Yet, demonetisation was like a bolt out of the blue.
Knife-maker Yamin Ansari says there were at least four to five thousand people employed in the local knife industry at one time. Now, things have changed dramatically, with barely a few hundred left in business. Most are moving to other businesses, but only by compulsion.
One of the turning points for this business was the Uttar Pradesh government’s 1990 move to ban the sales of Rampuris longer than 4.5 inches — it triggered the downfall of the industry.
Local shopkeepers resent the fact that several other more dangerous items are openly sold in the market but it’s only the Rampuri that suffered due to policy-making. The influx of the Chinese knives further eroded whatever presence the Rampuri had in the local markets.
Politicians looking the other way
In this Lok Sabha election, BJP’s Jaya Prada and SP’s Azam Khan are locked in a fierce battle, busy taking personal jibes at each other.
With local issues drowned out in this verbal clash, the issue of the Rampuri industry is missing in the sharp speeches of all the leaders.