Fifty-year-old Ida Ali has been in the traditional pottery making profession since his childhood. He says, “Nothing has changed. I am constantly struggling to make ends meet. The prices of the products such as clay toys, statues, idols, and diyas have remained the same for the last 10-15 years.”
Ali has set up his makeshift shop in Lucknow and he is not very optimistic about Diwali sales this year as well. He says, “Post demonetisation, our business was shaken up completely and till date, we haven’t been able to recover.”
“The demand for these products have increasingly gone down year after year, and has nearly dropped by 50-60 percent. Customers are not interested in buying traditional handicrafts anymore as they feel it is out of fashion now,” he adds.
He says he faces a lot of problem in finding the right clay for his pottery making and quite often has to pay a hefty sum to buy it from outside.
Ali works as a contract labourer as well. He says, “The demand for traditional diyas and statues are only during the festive season and more than 80 percent of these products are expected to be sold during Dussehra and Diwali. There is absolutely no demand after that. What are we expected to do in the off-season?”
The traditional earthen diya-makers also face a huge threat from the decorative lights and ready-made plastic diyas from China. As these Chinese products are inexpensive, have a better finishing and people no longer want to dirty their hands in oil and wick and look for better substitutes. Although the quality of these products are quite poor and are becomes unusable right after the first time. Customers still prefer Chinese lights over the locally made diyas.
For 30-year-old Alam, the festival of Diwali is the only hope of sustaining himself and his family. Alam is a small artisan and vendor of handmade diyas, clay toys and other products who after a lot of struggle comes to Lucknow, every year during Diwali from his small village, in order to sell his handicrafts, but that is just the beginning of his struggles.
Alam has to physically and verbally fight to make a space on the roadside footpath for his makeshift stall. He says, “Not only do I fight with the other vendors but also with the policemen who threaten us every time, asking us to remove our shops.”
He wants the government to help the small scaled, marginalised street vendors by allotting them small shops or even small permanent spaces where they can legally put out their products.
Alam laments over the fact that the customers never pay him the desired amount for the product. He says, “Customers mostly come from affluent backgrounds and can easily pay. They know that the products at the roadside vendors are already cheap in terms of price but they bargain rigorously. We give in to that and sell it to them at even lesser prices. We do not even get a marginal profit out of the sale, in the end.”
Twenty-five-year-old Himanshu Saini is a small scale vendor who buys clay idols, sculptures, and statues from Rajasthan for Rs 50 to Rs 60 and sells it in Lucknow markets for a meagre amount of Rs 60 to Rs 80.
He puts up his stall of Rakhi during Rakshabandhan and of traditional handicrafts and clay items during Dussehra and Diwali.
He fears that this year as well, his business will be in a huge loss. He invested Rs 80,000 especially for the Diwali sales but hasn’t been able to recover even Rs 8000 till now. The footfall is decreasing every year according to him.
He believes that increasing awareness about water pollution among the general public has reduced the demand for traditional clay made Ganesha-Laxmi idol. He says, “People have to go and immerse the idols in the local rivers and as it gets cumbersome for them they have substituted it with metal idols which can be used year after year, like a permanent material made up of gold or silver.”
He says, “The transportation and procurement costs are already very high and at the top of it the business suffers a loss as the products break or get damaged very easily during the transportation.”
Himanshu also echoes the same problem as Alam and says, “There is constant pressure to lower the prices, the customers fight and argue like a lawyer with us for a meagre amount of Rs 15-20 and give us one-fourth of the money that we ask for.”
Most of these small scale vendors and local artisans believe that Diwali has lost its traditional charm and is no more a busy season for them, as the Chinese products have taken over the Indian markets and the people are abandoning their ancestral profession and craft making and are moving towards other means of livelihood.
The successive governments also haven’t done much to protect and promote the traditional business of pottery, diya making, etc and the lack of apathy is clearly visible when no schemes or plans are made up for the traditional skill-based businesses.
The art of making diyas and clay idols by the skilled artisans and craftsmen in order to keep the tradition alive for the next generations is slowly fading and there might come a day when we become totally devoid of this art.