West Delhi’s Kumhar Gram (Potters’ Village) seems like a mega community fair during Diwali. It bustles with shoppers scanning the colourful display of earthen diyas, idols and other decorative items. Unfortunately, the festive vibe masks the roadblock these potters are facing.
Many potters have received notices from Delhi Pollution Control Committee to demolish their furnaces on the grounds of causing pollution. “We’ve been told to replace the traditional kiln with a gas furnace, which is a very costly affair for us,” says Vinod Kumar, a traditional artisan who has been moulding clay items for 22 years.
“It will seriously affect our livelihood. We feed raw materials, such as leftover woods by the carpenters, cow-dung to the earthen furnace. It costs us Rs 1,200 to make around 30,000 diyas. A gas furnace will need at least 10 cylinders and I hope the government helps us in this regard. There are more than 500 families here who are running this business for a long time and all bring in a range of items. This traditional industry needs protection”
Adjacent to Kumar’s house, we spotted freshly made sculptures, ready to be transported for business. On the porch of another house, piggy banks were kept for sale. A woman at the end of the alley was selling traditional earthen pots. Manoj Kumar was busy segregating diyas on his porch, sporting different shapes like square, polygon and rectangle.
“I love my work as having learnt the skill from my forefathers, I am quite adept at it. A regular job would pay me just Rs 8,000-Rs 10,000 and anyway the country’s economy is in crisis. But I get a much higher pay doing this.” He adds how assigning specific tasks to family members has eased the work process. “Some paint the diyas, while others arrange the mud and so on.”
According to him, the instruction of installing a gas furnace by the government is “not a long-term successful idea”. He says, “You can’t use it according to your requirement, the temperature is fixed and it is mainly good for glazed items. But for the pure earthen items, it is an earthen furnace that does the trick. Also, the gas furnace can only take in a one-time batch of 50-60 items, which is very less compared to a traditional earthen furnace. I have seen the gas furnace in award-winning artisan Harikishanji’s home.”
Harikishan’s humble studio has various racks packed with his glazed experiments of cups and other decorative items. Known as pradhanji in the settlement, he says, that the government passed the order to install gas furnaces after people from neighbourhood Bindapur village complained about the pollution. “Feeding rubber tyres, plastic, coal, and other items into the earthen furnace will cause pollution. Not the sawdust or cow-dung in controlled heat.
Of course there are misfits in the community who use such harmful products...the case in every industry. The government should do a proper survey before passing such an order.”He adds that villagers also make earthen pots and pans that are “perfect for cooking to avoid any lifestyle diseases. People from abroad visit me. They are deeply concerned about saving our heritage. So when your own government passes such an order, it doesn’t feel good.”