Spotlight- Telangana

All that glitters… Will the unique Charminar lac bangles get GI tag?

Behind the bright glitter of bangles in the back alleys of Charminar lie the assiduity and artistry of a bunch of master craftsmen who have turned the area into a souvenir hub. Now, a group of craftsmen has come together to secure Geographical Indication (GI) tag for the lac bangles manufactured in the area.  

Visitors to the Charminar inevitably wander into the western lane to be assaulted by the razzmatazz of shiny bangles and hustlers who promise ‘Ek minute, lowest price, best deal, and most original’ that side of the River Musi. With a GI tag on the horizon, these bangles are set to be catapulted into the big league.

“I have been trying to get the GI tag from 2007 when bankers and marketeers said it will create a niche. ‘You have a very special product. It will add value,’ I was told at Hunar Haat, Surajkund and other craft fairs when I visited them,” says Mohammed Hisamuddin, who is leading the GI tag application on behalf of the lac bangle manufacturers. While Golkonda Handicrafts outlets in the country sell the lac bangles, a GI tag is expected to open up avenues for marketing at niche craft fairs and exhibitions.

In a 10x10 room painted pink, Mohammed Imran squats in front of a small fire to turn an off-white blob of lac into a coloured bangle. “We get the lac from Chattisgarh. It melts when exposed to high temperature,” says Imran, applying a shiny blue block to the molten material and turns it into a flat strip. Another craftsman takes over and turns the flat strip into a bangle which is then heated again to remove any kinks. Everything happens in the blink of an eye.

Imran hails from a family of craftsmen’s community from Rajasthan called Manihari, which migrated to Hyderabad years ago and has turned the area near Chelapura, Mitti ka Sher and Mecca Masjid into a hub for the manufacture of lac bangles. He says he has been making lac bangles since he was eight years old. 

“Nobody, not even China can manufacture these bangles with this kind of perfection. It takes 20 steps to turn the lac into these shiny bangles with encrusted stones,” says Imran beaming with pride about his work.

According to estimates, the industry’s revenue tops ₹30 crore per year creating employment opportunities for 6,500 families in the area.

Laad Bazaar, which is the hub of retail trade in lac bangles, appears like a buyer’s market as businessmen let the buyers haggle to nearly one-third the initially quoted price. But in the shifting prices is the world of cut-throat competition.

“The rates have come down for these bright colourful bangles, known as Maharani sets, due to lack of demand. Now, they retail for ₹1,200. Four years earlier, we sold the same stuff for ₹3,000 or ₹3,500. Now, dull metallic colours are the choice. This costs ₹1,900,” says Hamza, pointing to a set of grey bangles. He completed his MBA from Shadan College before reverting to the family business of lac bangle-manufacture and retailing. At the entrance of the shop hangs the photograph of his pioneering grandfather Phool Mohammed, who migrated from Fatehpur in Rajasthan to set up business in the Mitti ka Sher area.

For years, a dark underbelly of child labour stained the bangle industry as workshop owners preferred younger children to do the finishing work of encrusting-coloured stones on the bangles. “One good thing that happened due to the COVID-19 lockdown is that the industry no longer employs children. Earlier, children aged between eight and 10 years from Bihar and Odisha were brought here and kept in single rooms and made to work for 14 hours a day. But now people no longer employ children,” says Hisamuddin. 

However, the years of flirting with child labour have transformed the industry. While earlier, 200 workshops used to dot the Laad Bazaar area, a majority of them has shifted to Nasheman Nagar, Bhavani Nagar and Talab Katta area. Some other manufacturers have moved to the fringes of the city in Balapur, Shaheen Nagar and Pahadi Sharif area.

“No, you cannot see the workshop. Women are working there,” says Mahfooz, who owns a bangle-manufacturing facility in Talab Katta. Mahfooz, who hails from Howrah in West Bengal, came to Hyderabad as a teenager and now owns the factory near Owaisi School in Nasheman Nagar. The area is a thriving hub for bangle-manufacturing units with a number of small shops selling raw materials, ranging from bags of white powder to synthetic resins and coloured stones. He opens a large box to show dozens of packed bangles. “These are equally good. They are from Howrah. We sell them for ₹700, but if you want to buy the same thing at Laad Bazaar, you will have to pay ₹3000,” says Mahfooz, adding that he had to struggle with multiple agencies after a raid on his factory seven years ago. “These don’t break even if they fall accidentally,” he says and drops the bangles to the ground to prove his claims. Nothing happens. The bangles are indistinguishable from the ones made with lac. And thereby hangs the tale of how a newer manufacturing process has changed the industry and its competitiveness.

The making of lac bangles

While lac (the word comes from Sanskrit lac or hundred thousand) bangles are made from a natural resin that is the secretion of an insect on a tree bark, the unbreakable bangles are made with a white power (gypsum) that is blended with epoxy hardener and resin. “We call the lac bangles used with natural resin and heat as pukka, while the bangles made with chemicals and powder are called kachcha,” informs Hisamuddin who doesn’t consider the synthetic resin bangles as worthy of competition.

“The process of getting a GI tag takes nearly a year from the time of filing of application. We will be having a detailed examination report, followed by a consultative meeting of committee members. The experts are usually drawn from industry and academic bodies like the National Institute of Design who evaluate the product’s uniqueness,” says Subhajit Saha, who has filed the application for GI tag on behalf of the artisans.

Walking down the Laad Bazaar Street, it is difficult to stay clear of the allure of these shimmering baubles. Some natural, some synthetic. But it is these synthetically created bangles that have turned the business on its head with instant production and low technical skill. While craftsmen like Imran take a day to create just the shape of a bangle using lac, the bangles made with powder are finished in one go. The raw material gets the shape of a bangle in 10 minutes and is then rolled over coloured stones to create a pattern. Once dried, the bangle is ready and unbreakable.

On the other hand, encrustation of lac bangles is a long-drawn process. It is part of a secretive cottage industry where women sit near a small sigri (furnace) with heated stones which are then painstakingly affixed to the bangles to craft a gem worthy of a trousseau that would be passed down generations with pride.


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Printable version | Aug 26, 2022 1:44:04 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/all-that-glitters%E2%80%A6/article65779115.ece