The economic system within which the Kumars work has changed many times over the course of time, as it has in the rest of the society. As image makers, they began as clients of a patron, and then the slow introduction of community pujas turned Kumartuli into a permanent settlement and marketplace in the early years of the twentieth century. The Kumars started to use paid labourers in order to satisfy the growing market for readymade images for baroari and sarbajanin pujas. Innovative designs were necessary to please the customers. With Partition, competition hardened even though the demand for images increased. East and West Kumars started their respective organizations to get bank loans; and the labourers organized to get better conditions. The period of the Maoist Naxalite uprising from the late 1960s onwards created a sense of emergency in Naxalite- demarcated Kumartuli, making customers afraid to go there to purchase their murtis. Economically strained as they were, Indira Gandhi's policy of nationalizing the major private banks in 1969 (Chandra et al. 1999: 353) came as a relief to the better- off Kumars, while the problems remained for those who ran smaller workshops. The nationalized and politically controlled banks started to grant loans with low interest rates. The new policy had limited success within Kumartuli, at least in the initial decade, and the private moneylenders remained important. During the 1960s and 1970s, a few Kumars were able to accumulate the necessary capital to turn their image making business into a small- scale industry. The divide between the successful and ordinary Kumar widened as Kumartuli left much of its patron– client economy during the 1970s and entered an economy dominated by a capitalistic mode of production, characterized by ready- made images, organized wage labourers and surplus accumulation that was reinvested in the business. From then on, Kumartuli became a place with a strong divide not only between Maliks, but also between the class of Maliks at large and wage labourers, even though they both generally belong to the same jati.
In this chapter I aim at providing an overview of the economic developments, with political turmoil, nationalization of banks and the establishment of a labourers’ union in the 1970s as the main cases. The changes taking place in this period have altered life and work in Kumartuli radically.
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