Tibetan cardigan traders suffer Rs 3 million losses due to delays

By Sudeep Sonawane

Surat, November 18, 2017.

Tibetan Refugee Sweater Market traders have incurred a total loss of Rs 3 million for starting their business one month late this year, says its community leader.

Richen Namgyal: Tibetan Refugee Sweater Market leader.

Speaking to The National Dawn in English language fluently Rinchen Namgyal says, “Delay in receiving regulatory permission and two other unforeseen hurdles have inflicted big losses on our annual seasonal business.”

Fifty-five Tibetan families comprising around 230 members come to Surat from their permanent homes in Himachal Pradesh and start their business in October at Heritage Square or Chowk Bazaar in Nanpura every year.

Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) did not delay us a lot. They gave us permission on October 7,” says Namgyal. “Second, this year Diwali festival dates coincided with the start of our business season. This kept our contracted stall builders busy elsewhere in the city.”

A M Tapali Mandapwalla installs 155 stalls of 6×4 feet at the Tibetan Refugee Sweater Market. Each Tibetan stall owner pays a rent of Rs 25 per day to SMC.

“They stopped work after ten days when Diwali holidays started. They resumed construction work after a gap of another ten days. Wall construction around the Gandhi Garden, a heritage site, caused the third delay since our market is next to it,” he says.

Namgyal, 41, joined his parents in sweater business as teenager. With other community members he sells woolen apparel, jackets, mufflers, hand gloves and other accessories in Surat for the last 24 years. He speaks Hindi fluently and fairly good Gujarati.

Tibetans sold hand knitted sweater more than two decades ago. “Now just two per cent of our stock is handmade,” says Namgyal. “We buy our sweaters from Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Panipat and Delhi.

Demand for woolen mainly comes from local residents who travel to colder destinations Europe during winter, he says. “It would be ideal to open our stalls around 20 days ahead of Diwali. This would enable migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar to buy our goods before travelling for vacation.”

Tibetans sold hand knitted sweater more than two decades ago. “Now just two per cent of our stock is handmade,” says Namgyal. “We buy our sweaters from Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Panipat and Delhi.

“We visit theses cities in groups during summer and stay over a month in dharmshalas (public inns) that charge Rs 300 each day. We visit many factories and place orders. Selecting materials, designs, and placing bulk orders for weaving requires time.”

With e-commerce being the mantra these days, why not consider online bulk orders? “That’s good for paying bills. We believe in seeing, checking, feeling materials before placing bulk orders,” he says.

Most Tibetans in Surat speak English and Hindi well. They dress well, use smart cellphones, but the pain of refugee status is obvious on most faces.

Namgyal’s niece Ngawang says, “Our homes are in Himachal and Surat is our home for four months every year.”

Asked has she and her community members considered applying for Indian passport, “Yes, we have thought about it, but if we do, we will not be able to go Tibet which is our homeland. Life will be difficult there.”

She did not say it in so many words, but her wry smile suggested persecution by the Chinese occupiers of Tibet.

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