The Internet is doing to Bidri artisans what the governments or civil society organisations could not do all these years — provide remunerative prices to the centuries-old handicraft.
Most of the trade in Bidriware is through middlemen in Hyderabad or Mumbai. “They have never paid us well. The trader keeps most of the profits and the artisan is left with a pittance,” Mohammad Saleem, president of the Bidri youth mandal in Bidar, said. A middleman buys a flower pot for Rs. 200 from artisans. But it is sold in the range of Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 1,200 per piece in Hyderabad or Mumbai, he said.
State-run agencies, including the Union government’s Commissionerate for Handicrafts and the Karnataka State Handicrafts Development Corporation, have long been providing training and raw material at subsidised prices. The Cauvery handicrafts showroom in Bangalore routinely buys bidriware items from handicraftsmen. However, these organisations have not been able to provide them comfortable profit margins. Nor have they been able to help artisans when the price of silver or copper increases steadily or when the sale of bidriware slumps in the market.
Similarly, efforts at forming a federation or self-help groups of artisans have not been successful. The federation does little other than holding occasional meetings or imparting training to craftsmen. The self-help groups are yet to take off.
However, artisans have discovered a friend in e-commerce. Several websites are offering to sell bidriware at good prices. The biggest benefit is that there are no middlemen here. Websites carry details, including photographs of varieties and prices of the art pieces.
“When a demand is generated, their executives call us and ask us to prepare and supply the item. We send it by courier to the customer. Once the item is received, the company transfers money to our bank accounts,” Mr. Saleem said.
Last week, he sent office stationery items such as envelope openers and paper weights to Kerala and wall hangings to art lovers in Rajasthan. He said that the websites kept about 15-20 per cent of the selling price as their profits, compared to the 200-300 per cent profits pocketed by middlemen.
“Compared to our trade with middlemen, the number of pieces sold on websites is less. Therefore, the transaction volumes and resulting profits are less. However, there is a chance of growth and expansion of online trade,” says Imtiyaz Ali, who completed his graduation recently. His father, Ahmed Ali, is an artisan.
Apart from the government websites of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Bidri art can be bought online from some popular private websites. They include bidrihandicraft.com, amazon.com, Christies.com, bonhams.com, snapdeal.com, mirraw.com, artsquare.in, fizdi.com, junglee.com, clickindia.com, redbag.in, artstoreindia.in, creativecraftz.co.in, kalamadhyam.org, craftsvilla.com, zaarga.com, rangiru.com, rediff.com and homeshop18.com.
They are also bought and sold on platforms such as ebay.in, quikr.com and tolmol.com that arrange meetings of buyers and sellers.
“We had thought this craft would die with us. But the online market has made us hopeful that our next generation will continue the tradition,” said Rashid Quadri, national award-winning Bidri artisan.