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Muslim artisans in Lucknow languish

Lucknow, Fri, 25 Mar 2011 ANI

Lucknow, Mar 25 (ANI): Muslim artisans in the historical city of Lucknow, famed for its rich cultural and historical heritage, its delectable cuisine and its 'tehzeeb' drawn from the glorious traditions of 'Nawabs', are languishing due to neglect.


According to 2001 Census, the total population of Lucknow is 36, 45,509 of which 26 per cent are Muslims, who are mostly involved in a variety of crafts like kite making, 'manjha' making, while others work on more intricate craft like gold and silver jewellery, embroidery like the famed 'chikankari' and of course the exquisite ' Zardozi', using of gold and silver thread.


The rulers of the region patronized these art forms over centuries. Today these artisans find themselves excluded from this charmed world. Their world while creating works of intricate beauty is stark, even bleak. Development processes, which would allow them to have a quality of life bypasses them and market processes are not geared to provide them remunerative prices for their labour and talent.


50-years-old Abdul Basit sums up the travails of the community: "I live in Yaseen Ganj, Balaganj, Chowk, and I grew up with a needle and muthiya (a tool for Zardozi embroidery). We were very poor and could not go to school. Even today, I am not able to earn enough to send my children to school. I have to see to their daily needs and later to marry them off. Zardozi does not attract the money it used to."


"Inflation and the growing needs of my family have reduced the value of money. With age, the speed of my Zardozi work has suffered, as it required to be done minutely. It requires a firm grip and a clear vision. I am losing both fast. I don't get much work now. I am very worried and don't know how to feed my family," Basit adds.


Even for 'karigars' in the prime of youth, the going is tough. For an eight- hour work referred to as 'Ek Nafri' their painstaking work which causes heavy strain on the eye and hand muscles for they get a paltry sum of Rs. 80-90.


For women, it is even worse. Hajji Hurmat Ali, one of the artisans says, "Our women and girls work for 8-10 hours on a Benarsi Sari and what they get is only Rs. 25-30." Compare this with the rate of labour under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) and the difference is stark.


Even within the unorganized sector, the 'karigars' of Lucknow remain a community without a voice, largely unaware of their rights or the ability to mobilize on common issues for their betterment. Abdus-Subhan, who lives in the area, bemoans this " Even the rickshaw pullers have an organization to safeguard their rights; we don't have any such organization that can fight for us. Years back, there was an organization whose members used to collect two rupees each from us. But now I don't know where they are, their members are nowhere to be seen."


Interestingly, the Imam of the mohallah Qari Burhanuddin Rizvi is concerned about the situation particularly of the children of the zardozi workers. He says "Please look around the mohallah and you will find children who should have been in 'madrasas' or schools working in embroidery units. The hands, which should have held a pen and notebook are working with a needle and muthiya."


The Imam is aware of the Central Government's move to make education compulsory and free till the age of 14 and is pained by the fact that it has done nothing for the children of his mohallah. For his part, he holds classes in the mosque for Urdu and basic religious practices, but is conscious of the fact that this will not suffice for their lives to move ahead.


What is ironical is that Ministry of Textiles under the Central Government has a slew of programmes existing to better the lot of these 'karigars', but the tragedy is that it does not reach them. The Rajeev Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojna for instance would provide medical facilities for the poor artisan and his family till the age of 80.


If an artisan dies, the family would get insurance of Rs. one lakh. The Jan Shri Bima Yojna provides insurance cover in the event of death by natural causes and the Shiksha Sahyog Yojna provides resources for children's education. Yet on the ground, there is very little evidence of these programmes working. Is this then the bitter legacy of the renowned artisans of Lucknow, known for their exquisite craftsmanship for a discerning customer in markets both in India and abroad?


In a sense, the situation has come about through a combination of forces, both social and economic, which is continuing to keep the artisans in penury, in neglect. The lack of awareness, of a lack of cohesiveness to unite under a common cause, the ability to make them heard at a public platform.


The upcoming Assembly elections in the State could be a time of reckoning, not only for the impoverished artisans, but for the political agenda of the State to be redefined, to be inclusive


Charkha Development Communication network feels that the Muslim 'karigars' of Lucknow remain a community without a voice, largely unaware of their rights or the ability to mobilize on common issues for their betterment. (ANI)


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