Stories about hardship, mortality and unequal pay that the bangle manufacturing industry tells us
4 minutes read
“Meri Pyaas Na Bujhi Re Barasaat Maa, Barasaat Ma
Chhananachhan Chudiyaan Khanak Gayi Dekh Sahibaan …”
“…chudiyaan bazar se mangvaa de re pahle saiyaa
pakad phir baiyaa…”
“Zara zara hoke poora
Tera main ho jaaun re
Choodi khankayi toone
Kyun aadhi raat ma”
The tinkling of glass, vibrant colours and 50+ Hindi songs romanticising chudiyaan or bangles.
However, when bargaining for the price of those chudiyan to be reduced from Rs. 150 to Rs. 100 for your friend’s sangeet, this romanticism of the Bollywood jingles is hushed, for we often fail to listen or even acknowledge the stories behind these bangles.
Occupying a central role in the symbolic and aesthetic lives of South Asian women, bangles also help them earn their bread. Home-based industries run by women (and, unfortunately, even children) partner with factories that employ men for the mass production of these ornaments.
It is estimated that almost 60% of this work-force comprises women, who mostly handle the decorative aspects.
Besides the plastic bangle industry in Mumbai, glass bangles are primarily produced in Firozabad, a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and also Hyderabad, Telangana. Located nearly 200 km from New Delhi, Firozabad, also known as the City of Glass, is famous for its 200-year-old glass bangle industry. Markets that glitter and glisten with colourful rows of beautiful bangles can make one forget about the industries chugging out smoke due to their ancient methods of bangle-making.
A household business with techniques passed down the generations, the entire family gets together to produce bangles. These home-cum-factories usually fall into the unorganised, informal sector, which leads to cost advantages to the factories that employ them, in terms of hiring an establishment and employing regular labour. Needless to say, the women and children get the worst of the deal.
A study indicates the health hazards that especially plague women during the production of bangles, a process that includes 28 different sub-processes:
- Judai (joining of bangles with fire): watering and pain in the eyes, asthma, digestive problem, joint pain
- Jhalai (straightening of bangles with the help of fire): bronchial asthma, watering and pain in the eyes, joint pain,
- Mudai (designing of bangles with the help of clipper and fire): respiratory disease/asthma, watering and pain in the eyes.
- Pakai (baking the bangles to make them pakka or stronger): skin disease/irritation
- Chaklai (sorting of bangles): leg pain and backache
- Katai (designing of bangles on grinder): injury to fingers
- Colouring: skin irritation due to paints
The working conditions are far from safe. Overcrowded and under-ventilated, the workplaces are reported to barely provide access to clean drinking water, leading to severe dehydration among the employees. A combination of chemicals, insufficient lighting, lack of protective gear, and toxins leads to severe ailments of the chest and the lungs and reduces the life-span of these women. Some women are even known to go blind due to the strain on their eyes.
The working conditions are far from safe. Overcrowded and under-ventilated, the workplaces are reported to barely provide access to clean drinking water, leading to severe dehydration among the employees.
And what do they get in return for producing this beautiful ornament? A man is said to earn approximately Rs 100 for a day of hard labour. The women are always paid less than men. Poor wages with no legal cover of labour laws make their financial condition very dire.
Naturally, the factory owners, wholesalers and retailers who make the profit do not share them, and the workers feel cheated. With increasing women stepping into the home-based work-force, they are rendered invisible due to the scattered, unorganized, unreported status of their work. Already belonging to a disadvantageous section of the society, they barely have linkages with each other, and hence have no platform to unite and think about their issues and benefits.
Although home-based industries are reasonable for these women, considering lack of necessary qualifications and formal training, absence of child care support and social & cultural constraints; these poor working conditions and occupational hazards decrease their productivity and lower their earnings.
It is time people come forward to collectively acknowledge the miseries these women go through. Affirmative policies to improve their situation are much required with updated technology that can protect them from diseases. It is time we hear their stories of hardship, mortality, and unequal pay, and try to compensate for their efforts.
- Indian Journal of Applied Research: Observational Study of Home Based Glass Bangle Women Workers of Firozabad City, 2016
- Dawn: Bangles: Behind the scenes, 2012
- Aljazeera: Indian town where glass-making is a household craft
- YouthkiAwaaz: Bangle Industry In India: The Cruel Darkness Behind The Vibrant Hues, 2012
- Gaon Connection: Lockdown, or no lockdown, these glass workers of Firozabad have been suffering for decades, 2020
- SMEstreet: Glocal Cluster Report: Glassware Manufacturing from Firozabad, 2018