Get subscribed to our newsletter
Get interesting updates to your email inbox.
If you're even a little familiar with the Indian culture you'll be aware of the traditional bracelets made of glass worn by women in India. Firozabad, a small industrial town approximately 200 km from the capital of India, Delhi is famous for its glass industry and especially its bangles. Thus it is rightfully known as "The Bangle City" or the "The Glass City of India". This city had is notable for the production of the bulk amount of indigenous glass. Bangles of every colour; red, green, blue, yellow, gold-lined, edged silver, you name it the city has it. Gorgeous bangles with intricate designs and rich colours are the unique art crafted by the hands of thousands of artisans living in Firozabad.
Making glass useful and a decorative object has been the city's tradition for more than 200 years. 75% of Firozabad's population including children are directly or indirectly involved in the traditional glasswork industry. Bangle making is a household business with generations passing on traditional techniques, from grandparents to parents and then to children. The city employs thousands of craftsmen and around town. Some of the town's units run 24 hours. There are about 150 bangle-making and decoration units in the city. A single bangle is expected to move to pass as many as 45 to 50 hands before turning it from a pure lump of glass into a piece of disposable jewellery.
Follow NewsGram on Instagram to keep yourself updated.
Firozabad today produces a range of glass products like glass hardware for decorative purposes, glass art items such as toys, candle stands, animal figurines and images of gods and goddesses, glass domestic goods such as drinking glasses. They even produce the science and laboratory glassware such as beakers, flasks, containers for college, university and factory laboratories; glass automotive products such as light bulbs, battery bulbs and Glass Street and domestic lighting equipment for urban and rural lighting and utility applications including miniature bulbs and high-voltage lighting equipment. This way half the city's output is exported.
A single bangle is moved past as many as 45 to 50 hands before turning it from a pure lump of glass into a piece of disposable jewellery.Wikimedia Commons
Behind the beautiful bangles that we wear are the hazardous and miserable conditions of the artisans. Not many people are aware of the blood, sweat and even lifetime disabilities that these glass craftsmen face while the production of this colourful glassware. Despite being successful and having a name for it as the "Glass City" it has failed to establish its place in the international market. The reasons are simple, as the city has stuck to the primitive traditional manual techniques which often lead to health hazards and has employed children in these glass furnaces for generations.
The craftsmen and children working in this industry often work for elongated hours in dark with shards of glass, and glass dust everywhere. All the work they do from welding to soldering pieces of glass is done without proper protection. Due to such conditions, they frequently suffer from respiratory problems, loss of vision, silicosis and other health hazards. Children employed lose their vision even before becoming an adult. 70% of the workers don't even get minimum wages.
Child labour and exploitation of labour have been a major problem in Firozabad for which the Government had made several laws and act acts to address the issue. The city continues to defy the laws and has become a hub of child labour and continues to exploit hundreds of children.
ALSO READ: Child Labour: Can the 'abused' dream?
Behind all the glitter and glory of the Glass City of India are the poor work conditions of the artisans and the health hazards that run from generation to generation. The glass children of the glass city need their rights to be protected. The city needs modernization of the traditional techniques to machines to avoid health hazards and address the problem of child labour. The enterprises and the government are working to promote the glass industry to bring back the shine and charm of the city.
Keywords: Glass industry, Firozabad, child labour, health hazards, poor working conditions
Lucknow, a city filled with the mystic beauty of its traditional arts and crafts that have been nurtured for centuries and continues to flourish. The rich Indian history becomes visible as one takes a walk in the lanes of Lucknow. From humble tea stalls to sizzling kebabs and the endless beauty of mesmerizing Chikankari fabric. It is a place with diverse art and culture that have evolved over the centuries. It is the birthplace of world-famous delicate embroidery, Chikankari. The Chikan work in Lucknow is older than 200 years and later it was patronized by Nawabs. There are approximately 5000 families involved in the Chikankari embroidery industry, in and around the villages of Lucknow. The majority of artisans belong to the local Muslim community.
Chikan translates to the word 'embroidery'. It is simple and precise handwork on a piece of garment. The technique gives a garment a very subtle and classy feel. Chinakari is an eminent craft amongst various other handloom specialities of India, which has been popular amongst most renowned people from royalties in ancient India to celebrities of today. The main essence of the garment is its simple design, and while motifs are now added to make the garment look rich, it remains a simple and affordable fabric choice. Chikankari is world-famous for its intricacy and beauty.
Follow NewsGram on Facebook to stay updated.
The origin story of Chikankari says that it can be traced back to the early 3rd century BC, when Megasthenes, a Greek traveller mentioned the used muslin by Indians. Another story goes as a traveller was passing Lucknow he asked a poor peasant for water. The peasant provided the traveller with water, hospitality, love and service. In return for his kindness and affection, the traveller taught the peasant the art of Chikankari, so that he won't ever have to be hungry and could earn a living. However, the most credible tale of the origin of Chikankari is associated with Mughal Queen Noorjahan, wife of King Jahangir. It is believed that she introduced Persian art in the 17th century. She taught this form of embroidery and was an outstanding embroideress herself. Due to her keen interest in the art, King Jahangir also developed an interest in embroidery and thus established several workshops to perfect this art in India.
Every stitch is done to perfection. Wikimedia Commons
Traditionally the embroidery was done with white thread on a white mulmul fabric by hand. But nowadays chikan embroidery is also done with coloured and silk threads in colours to meet the fashion trends and keep chikankari up-to-date. Chikankari is also known as shadow work. It is an intricate and elegant art of embroidery pursued with a needle on a piece of fabric. The needlework requires time and patience, and that's why the final product appears appealing. Modern chikan pieces are embellished and adorned with sequin, beads and mirror work to enrich their appearance.
Lucknow is the heart of the chikankari industry and the pieces made here are known as Lucknawi chikan. Chikankari is one of the most distinctive ways of designing fabric. The arduous process to design one piece of the garment makes it unique. The process includes designing, engraving, and block printing the design motifs on the fabric, doing embroidery over it by hand and lastly washing the cloth several times for it to be ready to be used.
ALSO READ: Bangles, Bracelets, Woman
One of the most prominent features of the Lucknow chikankari is the stitches. Every stitch is done to perfection. Thus, the level of neatness in the work is hard to find in the embroidery done by machine or any other place. The delicate and artfully done hand embroidery gives the garment a look of richness and skillfulness. The elegance and hard to achieve perfection in Lucknawi Chikankari capture the whole essence of the city of Nawabs.
Keywords: Embroidery, chikan, Lucknow, cloth, artisan
Other than the Todas, the Nilgiri hills are also home to the Kota tribe. This tribe populates the hills in nearly seven separate villages, and are much more private compared to the Toda tribe. They are not known for any particular craft, but certainly share linguistic traits with their tribal contemporaries.
The Kotas are believed to be a society that emerged from the Tamils and the Malayalis. They also share ancestry with the Kannadigas. They speak a dialect of Tamil which places more emphasis on the sound produced from the tongue touching the palate. Their words are structured similar to the Tamil form, but have an added click sound from the way it is pronounced. Their language is officially called Kov-M-ant.
The Kotas worship a trinity which they believe founded their tribe. Of the three deities, each one represents one of the hill tribes. So, they live in harmony with each other based on this supposed lineage.
Archived images of Kota women Image source: wikimedia commons
The Kota people wear white garments draped around their body. The men wear a single piece whereas women wear two drapes. They also wear a unique type of earring. They engage in terracotta crafts, and cultivation of potatoes and grain. Their houses are like apartment settlements. There is a room for each activity, and the village is divided into streets.
Artisans from the tribe who create indigenous craft do so for the tribe's benefit. They are a musical tribe and often have gatherings where they sing and dance. Drums, horns, and other instruments are made from reeds and animal hide. Dancing involves the men preceding the women, and it always ends with the women singing. They do this at every ceremony.
Archived imaged of Kota men, and their instruments made from animal horns Image source: wikimedia commons
The women of Kota are treated well. They are given the choice to marry whomever they want, and are also eligible to divorce. Marriage happens within the village, and according to streets. Since the street distribution is the largest form of distinction they have, their caste is dependent on the street they belong to. At the same time, the members of the same street are considered one family, and cannot intermarry.
Among the many villages in the hills, a group of people are chosen as the governing heads. They made decisions for the people when they cannot resolve issues themselves. This tribe functions at the basic level of all larger communities, and was ascribes the status of scheduled caste in the early nineteenth century. They are one group of people who availed educational benefits from the British. They are slowly moving towards development, and even work in rural and lower urban areas in various capacities.
Keywords: Kota, Nilgiri Hills, Women, Caste, Indigenous
A recent survey report brought out by All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA) has detailed cash flow crunches, wage losses, cancellation/withholding of orders, supply disruptions in the raw material value chain, and uncertainties regarding shipment (both domestic and export) to be some of the key challenges highlighted by craft enterprises after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Broad recommendations emerging from the survey include expectations of a stimulus from the government for craft-based enterprises, including measures like reduction/deferral in GST across categories, soft loans and interest-free working capital loans to aid production and the easing of access to raw material supplies.
IANSlife speaks to Sreya Mozumdar, ED, AIACA to get insights into India’s $583-billlion handicrafts market, how the pandemic has impacted this largely-unorganized sector, and what the survey recommends to aid the crafts sector of India. Excerpts:
Q: Please tell us about AIACA and what it aims to achieve.
A: AIACA is an apex body that has been working on a range of issues, since 2004, to promote market-led growth for the crafts sector; and increased incomes, and improved living standards of crafts producers. Over the past decade, AIACA has conducted policy research and advocacy on a range of issues including access to credit for crafts producers and environmental and health and safety standards for the sector; developed a crafts-certification system called the Craftmark; assisted sales and outreach of member producer groups and enterprises through commercial trade catalogs, trade fairs and order fulfillment; and assisted in developing and strengthening back-end production systems through a range of product design and business development services. We have worked with more than 150,000 artisans across 23 states in India.
Please Follow NewsGram Facebook To Get Latest Updates!
Q: How, in your personal experience, did the craft sector fare during the lockdown?
A: Even in the face of a health emergency, livelihood and financial issues were the most pressing ones. Rising costs of vegetables, groceries and other essentials were found to be a major concern during the initial phase of lockdown. AIACA itself, with the Akshaya Patra Foundation, had raised a resource amount of Rs 30 lakhs for rations for 3000 artisan families across the country. Widespread cancellation of orders, pending payments, amounting product inventory, shipments on hold or stuck in transit and a generalized sense of confusion about area-specific government relief activities and measures, were some of the difficulties faced by both artisans and craft enterprises during phases 1 and 2 of the countrywide lockdown. Production for the business came to a complete standstill. As regards big craft enterprises, a specific observation was that many were anticipating the shutdown of a few centers. In many cases, the staff salaries had been unpaid. Others were found revisiting production planning, conducting exploratory work, preparing back-up plans, new designs, and a strategy for online presence.
Q: The recent survey undertaken by AIACA particularly highlights the financial aftermath faced by the craft sector during these times. What are your thoughts on the findings?
A: Data in the survey revealed that while there has been a unanimous demand for financial support, it is the individual artisans who are in greater distress due to almost complete absence of working capital. 25 per cent of enterprises, on the other hand, still had working capital. It was also discovered that individual artisans required more short-term support, while enterprises stressed on the need for support in the long-run (beyond 6 months). Similarly, a big gap was visible in terms of raw material availability to artisans (40 per cent) and enterprises (64 per cent). Here too, a lack of working capital can be blamed. In fact, it seemed that the artisans had exhausted their financial resources in production, as the percentage of dead stock for enterprises and artisans was relatively similar. As artisanal work is comparatively more informal and unstructured, it is possible that there was limited or no financial planning for contingency. It was clear that the pandemic delivered a more severe blow to the business of smaller, individual artisans, who are struggling to cope with drastic changes in the economic environment. As per an initial estimate by the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), the handicrafts sector could suffer a loss of Rs 80-100 billion post-pandemic.
Q: Can you sum up the recommendations the report makes for this sector?
A: Infusion of capital, particularly to cater to the financial needs of individual artisans, through tax relief, subsidized raw materials and easy access to soft loans at minimal interest rates. AIACA has released a White Paper on fiscal recommendations particularly for craft enterprises, in this tenuous environment, keeping in mind the MSME outlays already announced.
Provision for capacity building training, need-based handholding and equipment to empower individual artisans, collectives and enterprises, for smooth transition to e-commerce. AIACA, with extensive experience in outreach, community mobilisation and skill development training, could play an important role as an implementing partner.
Strengthening mechanisms to encourage greater institutional procurement of handmade products, to deal with the problem of a mounting inventory. This would naturally increase cash flow in the sector, helping it kick-start production activity, to bounce back.
Strategize to repurpose products for the changed environment. While tapping into the ready national and international markets for products specific to the pandemic is critical at this point, individuals and enterprises must also re-think their long-term planning. Since the market for luxury goods has collapsed and continues to remain an uncertain investment option, there is a pressing need to develop products on lowered price-points. For smaller artisans and groups, the pivoting to produce essential items during the pandemic (example, face masks, PPEs) has been a challenge, also keeping in mind questions of scale and quality.
Greater exposure for artisans and enterprises to venture into government procurement. For this, they need orientation and handholding to walk through the complex and tiresome processes for tender applications. Such support must also take into account the need for reskilling artisans for quality control and up scaling to meet strict procurement standards.
As the new definition for micro, medium and small enterprises (MSMEs) stands reviewed, it must be noted that the raising of the upper limit of investments has almost completely thrown the handloom and handicrafts community out of this categorisation. If at all, they merely qualify as micro units. Besides, this has allowed the entry of bigger players, increasing competition. Therefore, the government must think of creating a special outlay category exclusive for the crafts sector, to address their needs in a focused manner.
Q: How can the common person contribute towards the post-Covid recovery of crafts?
A: Participate in awareness generation campaigns on the value of Handmade. Support smaller artisans and craft enterprises through purchasing of handmade products. Contribute skills and experience in building an active volunteer base to support artisans’ training on e-commerce, photography, catalogue-making, social media management, among others. (IANS)