The dearth of skilled labourers and tight regulations in clay-mining sector are pushing pottery into a crisis situation. Though many of members of the Kumbhara community, who are traditionally involved in pottery, have put their shoulder to the wheels to save the industry from a sudden perish, their efforts are yet to come to fruition in the absence of government support.
In Kozhikode district alone, there are over 1,000 families who are struggling to continue in the field. Though the middlemen engaged in the bulk trade of earthenware make some profit from the field, the plight of the grassroots-level artisans is remaining the same. Many a time, they find it hard to buy straw and firewood for firing the kiln.
“In Kozhikode district, the tile industry supports some of the traditional artisans in the field. For others, the field is still a loss-making industry as they have to cross several legal hurdles to obtain the raw materials,” says K.M. Das, leader of a State-level coordination committee of potters. The concept of product diversification and modern marketing is yet to reach majority of the community members in the rural areas, he says.
The struggle is clearly visible in the rural areas of Perambra and Muchukunnu near Koyilandy where the production of pottery is in a shrinking state. The youngsters from the traditional community of potters are on the hunt for other jobs, and rarely stick to their traditional vocation. Lack of a professional marketing system is another issue plaguing the sector.
The potters’ coordination committee members say the State is yet to tap the export potential of the traditional earthenware, and the scope of diversification. “Though there are a few middlemen who have succeeded in marketing the products in European countries, the area is still remaining wide open,” they point out.
T.C. Sundaran, office-bearer of the coordination committee, says that all the government bodies and political parties are aware of the plight of the Kumbharas, but a concrete action to save them from crisis is pending.
The aged members of the community are not getting the promised pension benefits. Most of them are surviving in the industry because of the support offered by various registered Societies in the sector, he adds.
Artisans are also concerned about the future of the cottage industry as youngsters rarely take interest in learning the craft. “Our children grow up seeing the sinking state of pottery and prefer other jobs,” says K.K. Rajendran, a skilled worker from Muchukunnu.
There are over 250 Kumbhara families in Muchukunnu region alone, but only less than 50 are currently active in the field. “This too will gradually come down if the community does not get the required support from the government,” he says.