Saviours of craft get short shrift

Saviours of craft get short shrift
Highlights

Bidriware, though considered a ‘dying craft’, is ably protected by vestigial craftsmen in the city.  Thanks to their unremitting efforts, Hyderabad is the second highest producer of Bidriware, next only to Bidar – the place of its origin.  

Hyderabad: Bidriware, though considered a ‘dying craft’, is ably protected by vestigial craftsmen in the city. Thanks to their unremitting efforts, Hyderabad is the second highest producer of Bidriware, next only to Bidar – the place of its origin.

All they need is proper support, like in Karnataka, to keep this 14th century craft alive. However, the exquisite craft is almost on the verge of extinction in the twin cities due to lack of support from the government. Questions are also being raised about the quality of workmanship today compared to that of the past, non-availability of particular type of sand and rising costs of raw materials.

Items of Bidriware are an alloy of 90 per cent zinc and 10 per cent copper with inlaying of sliver. There is growing demand for Bidriware among foreigners and multinational companies; yet, its production has been on the decline.

Artisans lament that the Telangana government has turned a deaf ear to their woes, whereas the Karnataka government has been taking positive measures to save the centuries-old craft.

Khaleel Ahmed, State award winner and one of the few Bidriware artisans in Hyderabad, says: “We have been seeking subsidy on raw materials for a long time, but the government has not responded to our pleas.

Unlike in Telangana, the Karnataka government provides subsidy on raw materials; it has allocated an entire colony for Bidriware artisans there and conducts regular training programmes. Six months ago, a training session was conducted by the government at my workshop here, but I haven’t received the payment till date.”

Reminiscing about his teenage, he said that at times his father used to get bulk orders worth Rs 20 lakh from the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh government, but the scenario has completely changed now. “Although the demand and uniqueness of Bidriware is still intact, the artisans are not benefiting as much as the middlemen, who buy art from Bidar and sell it at double the price in the city,” he explains.

Lepakshi Handicrafts store takes artwork on contractual basis, under which artisans are paid only after their product is purchased. Sriphani, Assistant Manager at Golkonda Handicrafts, said “There are less than 50 Bidriware craftsmen in the city and the State government has not come up with a subsidy scheme as of now.”

Meanwhile, craftsmen claimed that the raw materials’ costs have gone up tremendously over the years. “Customers think Bidriware is expensive, but they are unaware of the intricacy and workmanship involved in it. Moreover, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has made the situation even worse for artisans, with 12 per cent tax on raw materials and no subsidy from the State.

It is difficult to give wages to the craftsmen who are working for me,” said another State award winner, Mujahid, owner of Gulistan Bidri in the Old City. He said that he had requested the handicrafts authority to include Bidirware in jewellery so that GST could be reduced to 3 per cent.

‘Blackening’ is the final stage in the making of Bidriware, wherein the sand (said to be ‘best’ only if obtained from the premises of the Bidar Fort) and ammonium chloride are mixed with water and applied on the heated mould.

This will selectively turn the grey colour into black without changing the silver’s colour. However, ever since the Fort became a ‘Heritage Site’, craftsmen are not allowed to take sand from there.

“I buy sand from Bidar, but since the Fort has been fenced, it has become difficult for us to get the sand. Recently, I purchased a bag, but the sand was not pure because seller mixed a different type of sand in it,” said Khaleel.

By Tera Sneha Reddy

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