//Muslim artisans find the going tough

Muslim artisans find the going tough

Hemangini Gupta, CNN-IBN, March 16, 2006 at 11:32

Moradabad: A recent survey of Muslims by Imran Ali and Yoginder Sikand says that the community is discriminated against in government jobs ans has even been edged out of their traditional crafts.

In Moradabad, the heart of the brass making artifacts, Abdul Shahid’s backyard workshop used to be humming with activity.

Most Muslims in this part of Uttar Pradesh are traditional artisans specialising in brassware.

When work was good, about 10 years ago, his entire family would slave amidst the pile of soot to churn out some of the finest brass works.

Brass making was an art form handed down the generations and it created a proud sense of self.

"There’s ustadi (mastery)in this workmanship. Today I’m doing this work but if someone comes to me and says please explain how to make this, I will sit with him and teach him what I know," Abdul Shahid says.

But work is now moving to the factories, cheaper labour has swarmed in from neighbouring states and middlemen swallow up a major part of the deal.

A skill learnt by Abdul at his father’s feet is now being replaced.

For generations families like Shahid’s mastered the art of brassware but with wages being driven down, they are forced to abandon years of skill and tradition for anything that gives money.

The orders are fewer and farther in between and Abdul’s sons are moving away to the big cities in search of work.

Abdul is reluctantly moving to Delhi to work at a brass factory and live with five others from Moradabad in a tiny single room.

"We’ll teach our children other work. I have a brother-in-law but I won’t teach him this work. It’s better he has a chai (tea) shop or something else that gives him daily wage," his son Shahid says.

Many others are forced to abandon brass altogether. Once skilled artists, they now push carts or drive rickshaws.

"This work makes me feel bad. I used to have 50 people under me; I had servants. But now all my labour is gone. I used to make so much money," Mohammed Shah, a fruit seller now, says.

This sense of loss is not restricted to the brass workers of Moradabad.

Across India, weavers, potters, and glassmakers are being driven out of their traditional jobs and losing their pride.

Most of them are Muslim and were once master craftsmen. Not only have they lost their livelihoods but also the self esteem of the master craftsman.