India is one of the leading countries when it comes to manufacturing sports equipment and sporting goods. However, the epicenter of the industry has shifted from Jalandhar in the state of Punjab to Meerut in Uttar Pradesh in the past few years. We try to understand why.
Only a few years ago, when someone thought of sports products, Jalandhar came to mind. The town has been a hub of trade and commercial activities for centuries. But, it was not always a place known for the manufacturing of sports products, it began after the partition of India. From 1947, until the early 2000s, Jalandhar was synonymous with sports goods and the manufacturing of international standard sports equipment. But now, Meerut has emerged as the hub for the manufacture of such goods and it is also informally known as the ‘sports capital of India’. But how and why this shift happened and how things took a drastic change?
Jalandhar: A centuries-old trade-hub
To understand this, we have to first understand how sports manufacturing first began in Jalandhar. The region always had an affiliation with trade and commerce, since it is situated between two major rivers of Punjab, Sutlej to the east and Beas to the west. The region is known as Doaba in Punjab and Jalandhar is the biggest district in the region. It is located on the Grand Trunk Road, and for centuries, the major road has connected the Bay of Bengal with Central Asia. Being located between two major rivers, it developed as a major trade and cultural exchange hub, where goods and commodities transported across kingdoms were traded, stored, and distributed further.
Introduction of sports goods manufacturing
During British rule, the epicenter of sports manufacturing was Sialkot, which is now in Punjab, Pakistan. Sialkot had a flourishing tannery and leather goods industry before the Britishers arrived. It provided the perfect infrastructure for the British officers stationed in India to get their leisure equipment made. The Imperial officers played football, badminton, and cricket in their leisure time and these were also the games played in their clubs, cantonments, and other administrative establishments.
The goods produced in Sialkot were very impressive and soon they were exported to other British-ruled parts of the world. The town of Sialkot soon emerged as a major industrial hub. However, come 1947, the Hindu and Sikh industrialists had to migrate to the other side of the border and they ended up in Jalandhar. The town had one similarity with Sialkot. It too had a flourishing leather industry that served as the base to begin manufacturing of football bladders and other sporting goods. Thus began the journey of sports goods manufacturing in Jalandhar.
The Meerut story
In the late 70s, the local political scenario in Punjab took a major curve and the next couple of decades were affected by turmoil, terrorism, and social unrest. This took a huge toll on the once-prospering industry in the state. Not just the sports goods manufacturers, but other major industries shifted base outside Punjab. The Uttar Pradesh government of the time offered tax sops to sports goods manufacturers to shift their manufacturing facilities in the state and Meerut was identified as a favorable place.
Punjab: The land of NRIs
The early entrants in the sports goods manufacturing industry in Meerut were all those who shifted base from Jalandhar. However, it is not the only reason why the industry has boomed in the region, there is more to it. The place also offered hardworking labor at a much lower price, which was not present in Punjab. Also, Meerut has close proximity to the National Capital and thus it provides the supporting infrastructure such as quicker international transport of goods as Delhi already had the paraphernalia.
It is not just that. In due course of time, the small-time manufacturers who entered the business, or hardworking laborers who slowly graduated to being manufacturers themselves, have all contributed to developing the region as a world-known hub for the manufacture of sports goods.
Besides, another major chapter in the Jalandhar story is the brain drain. People especially youth from the region have always had a tendency to move abroad and establish themselves outside India. Even before moving abroad became a trend for all Punjabis, people from the Doaba region were the one’s already leading the race. Until a few years ago, the region was ‘infamous’ for being home to the majority of Non-Resident Indians NRIs.
The search for better pastures might have bettered many households, but has truly impacted the once-flourishing industry.