Saturday July 20, 2019

The dire need to revive the Assamese brass industry



Born_bronze_-_Bronze_castsDhubri (Assam) : Artisans working for generations to make captivating brass artifacts and utensils are looking towards the government – and have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi – for succor as their vocation is threatened by rising costs and dwindling profits.

Over 300 artisans, involved in the brass industry in Kartimari and Sapatgram villages in Kokrajhar and Dhubri districts respectively, have now sought to attract the attention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – who has launched the “Make in India’ and “Make in the Northeast” initiatives – to revive the industry that is around a century old.

The traditional way of making different things from brass has not only given the villagers an identity but also provided employment opportunities to the youths of the two villages.

The once flourishing village industry has hit such a nadir that many artisans have already shut shop and their young wards have since switched over to other more remunerative professions or simply left for Kerala, Gujarat and neighboring West Bengal to work as manual laborers.

“We have been making brass utensils and artifacts like plates, bowls, cymbals and other items used for daily household work, as well as in marriages and religious functions for generations now. From more than 300 people of over 100 families once dependent on the industry, the number has now come down to less than 50 families. We not only supplied brass items to markets in Assam and West Bengal, but also won awards way back in 1993 and 1994,” artisan Ram Prasad Karmakar, 45, said.

Increasing production cost and shrinking profits forced Karmakar to abandon brass production activity. He is now earning his livelihood by doing contractual work under the state electricity department.

“I will definitely resume production of brass if we get some help from the government,” he said.

The villagers, mostly Hindu Bengalis, collect brass scrap supplied by traders in nearby markets, smelt it in coal-fired ovens and then make attractive items by hand. They forge the brass items with the help of tools they have themselves prepared.

“There is still a huge market for our products in Assam and West Bengal. We require electric machines to melt brass scrap, but it requires a lot of money. We formed a cooperative society a few years ago, but it did not last long due to lack of government support,” Bimal Karmakar, another former metal artisan at Kartimari village in Kokrajhar district, said.

“After we heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi talking about reviving village industries under the ‘Make in India’ campaign, we got an email sent to Modi for help. We even received a confirmation it had been received,” he said.

“If the government provides us financial support and a little help to improve our skills, we can revive the village industry. Young boys who left for Kerala, Gujarat and West Bengal can return and work here again. Many old artisans are very good in designing, but the trade will be lost forever unless something is done,” said Sambhu Karmakar, a brass metal artisan at Sapatgram.

The village industry used to provide jobs to even women as they made the earthen pots used in melting brass scrap or other raw material used for making brass utensils.

Bad shape of the brass industry has not only led to economic hardships for the villagers but also led to other social problems.

“People have migrated to urban areas in search of jobs. They have also begun sending youngsters to work in paddy fields in nearby villages or even outside, which has led to increase in the number of school dropouts here,” Sambhu Karmakar said.


Next Story

Assam Tea Growers Start No Sickles Campaign to Ensure the Overall Quality of Assam Tea

During the last 35 years there has been a huge increase in the land area under tea cultivation

Although Assam tea is known worldwide for its quality due to hand plucking of 'two leaves and a bud', some of the gardens have resorted to harvesting tea leaves. Pixabay

To ensure the overall quality of Assam tea, the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) has started a ‘No sickles’ campaign among the tea gardens of Assam.

Although Assam tea is known worldwide for its quality due to hand plucking of ‘two leaves and a bud’, some of the gardens have resorted to harvesting tea leaves with sickles (which is popularly known as kasi) affecting the quality of the tea.

Chairman of NETA, Nepul Saikia said this on Wednesday while adding that the organization has started the campaign “Say NA to Kasi for tea harvesting” from today and added that the campaign is basically to bring awareness amongst the tea producers not to use sickles during harvesting of tea leaves.

He said that during the last 35 years there has been a huge increase in the land area under tea cultivation. In 1990, Assam’s tea production was only 388 million kgs which has grown to 692 million kgs in 2018.

Assam, Tea Growers, Sickles
To ensure the overall quality of Assam tea, the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) has started a ‘No sickles’ campaign. Pixabay

“There has been an increase of about 300 million kgs in 28 years which is about 80 per cent increase in production in 2018 compared to 1990 figures. However, there is a shortage of workers in peak cropping months – July, August, September and October. To overcome the shortage of workers some growers have resorted to harvesting tea leaves with sickles,” he said adding that the tea leaves harvested with sickles are of very poor quality and this is one of the major reasons for the quality failure of Assam tea.

“As per the latest Tea Board figures, about 49 per cent of tea produced in Assam is from the green tea leaves by small tea growers. Though a majority of small tea growers do not use sickles throughout the year we have started this campaign before it is too late”, said Saikia.

“This campaign is to basically bring awareness amongst tea growers on the harvesting of quality tea and also to bring the attention of policymakers in providing growers with substitutes like shears, battery operated plucking machines and one/two men operated harvesting machines”, said Bidyananda Barkakoty, Adviser NETA.

The Tea Board has a field mechanization scheme of 25 per cent subsidy on plucking and pruning machines for general category and 100 per cent subsidy for SC & ST. “This scheme can be further popularized amongst the growers and subsidy amount should be increased to 75 per cent for general category”, Barkakoty added.

Also Read- India: Government to Help Develop Required Skill Sets Needed By Industries Across the Spectrum

“A Guwahati-based investor is developing a plucking machine with an Israeli technique and we are expecting a prototype of it in October. This plucking machine which is in the designing stage now will help in selective harvesting of tea leaves similar to hand plucking”, he added. (IANS)