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Bangles of every colour; red, green, blue, yellow, gold-lined, edged silver, you name it the city has it.

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.

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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.

Wrists of women wearing bangles 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



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