VILLUPURAM: Gold jewellery is almost always associated with women. But hardly any women create it. In the male-dominated profession is 40-year-old S Sankari, the only female goldsmith in Villupuram district. She recently made hand-cut designs on about 1,000 gold rings overnight, raising eyebrows in the industry. Each of these rings weighed between two and eight grams.
“I faced a lot of criticism for entering the pattarai (workshop), which is a male den, in 2010. Most of my relatives insisted I give up the ‘foolish’ dream and focus on my children instead. But today, they are jealous of my career and economic independence,” Sankari says proudly.
About a decade into the craft, Sankari feels empowered to have contributed significantly to the family income. She dropped out of school in Class 10 as her parents got her married, and her husband, S Siva (45), also a goldsmith, encouraged her to learn the craft after noticing her interest.
“As a child, I wanted to become a district collector,” she recalls. “Though that didn’t work out, I beat the odds by entering a workspace reserved for men, and becoming the district’s only woman in the industry. That, to me, is an achievement.”
Sankari earns about Rs 25,000 a month, and her income shoots up — sometimes even doubling — during festivals. She makes hand-cut designs on gold rings and pendants, and now plans to explore more intricate jewellery-making techniques.
Juggling household chores and work, Sankari cuts 300-400 rings a day. “The craft requires such attention that even if I accidentally cut my finger, I can’t just get up as there would be gold dust on my clothes. The dust that goes ‘waste’ is part of my wage. Besides, since it is a minute job, it strains my eyes, fingers, neck, and shoulders,” she adds.
The machine used for the job vibrates like a tattoo gun, and using it for hours together could weaken the shoulder bones. Household work adds to the strain, Sankari says, adding that women in all professions face risks and challenges, but it’s important that they participate to ensure a balance of men and women in the workforce.
What’s the ‘hand-cutting’ craft all about?
Hand-cutting is the craft of fine polishing fully-designed gold jewels, adding a glittery effect. The technique was brought to Tamil Nadu, primarily by Bengali goldsmiths, in the early 2000s, says V Umapathi, a senior gold appraiser from Villupuram. “It was done using large machines and required long hours of work. But after the Bengalis came to the South with the hand-cutting technology using a dental lab instrument with diamond needles to cut gold, the game was theirs. The lucrative job no longer took a long time”