Salem: The silver anklet hub

Over 1.5 lakh workers turn out these articles in 168 villages around Salem

Updated - June 24, 2022 12:51 pm IST

Published - June 24, 2022 12:48 am IST

The manufacturers have been demanding a GI tag to prevent duplication. 

The manufacturers have been demanding a GI tag to prevent duplication.  | Photo Credit: E. LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

In a hot, crowded room in Salem city, Soundarya, 23, and her mother Kamala work like automatons methodically placing little silver flower designs on a pre-made cast of a silver anklet. Looking up momentarily from their painstaking job, Ms. Soundarya says she has been employed at the makeshift silver anklet manufacturing factory for the last three years.

“At first, the work was extremely difficult to learn, but with time and patience, anyone can pick it up in a few months,” she adds. Ms. Soundarya and her mother are permanent workers in the workshop, though in other workshops, workers are paid on the basis of the number of anklets they make each day.

The two are among an estimated 1.5 lakh-plus workers turning out silver anklets in 168 villages around the city.

While the historical roots of the cottage industry remain unclear, C. Sree Anantharajan, president of the Salem District Silver Kolusu Manufacture Kaivinai Sangam, believes merchants from Salem, who would travel to other parts of the State, would have been one of the primary dealers who made the industry famous. “Among the wares that they would sell were silver anklets, and slowly, the quality and intricacy of the designs marked Salem’s silver anklets out from the designs produced at other places,” he adds.

Making a silver anklet involves more than 20 steps, from melting down silver bars imported from as far away as China to casting the metal into pre-made casts and finally customising each design by hand, adding patterns and designs, explains R. Gnanasamy, another worker at a manufacturing unit.

“The industry is thriving as anklets are so important to the social life of people in Tamil Nadu. Each important event in a woman’s life, from her birth to her marriage, are marked by her loved ones gifting her silver anklets,” he says. Manufacturers say there are more than 1,000 unique designs produced in the workshops in the district.

“Each design has a unique name, from Menaka, Savithri, Chinthamani, Murukku kolusu and others, with each marking a different occasion,” adds Mr. Anantharajan.

The silver anklet manufacturers have been demanding that a Geographical Indicator (GI) tag be approved for the Salem silver anklets to prevent duplication by bigger jewellery manufacturers. “The anklets which are produced in Salem are sold to some of the largest jewellerysellers in India through middlemen. Our fear is that our designs could be used without consent by bigger manufacturers who could outcompete us using mass-manufacturing techniques,” says a manufacturer from Shevapet.

The recent announcement by the government to set up a production center for silver anklets has been welcomed by the manufacturers. Many believe the facility will lower the manufacturing cost by bringing together producers of different components that go into making a silver anklet. “However, there is still a lot that needs to be done,” says Mr. Anantharajan, adding that manufacturers face many problems while transporting their anklets to other districts.

“Most manufacturers are poor and middle-class people who carry the anklets in large carry bags on buses. We are routinely stopped by the police who suspect we are criminals trying to flee with valuables. The Ministry of Textiles has given us identity cards attesting to our being artisans. We have called on the State government to recognise these identity cards so that our traders are spared the ignominy of being taken to a police station and questioned,” he says.

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