by Manish Gupta
As I was traveling by train across India in March, I befriended a fellow passenger whose family runs a Churi making workshop. Churis are beautiful bangles made of glass, that come in all sorts of colors and designs. Churis are an essential accessory for any woman in India and a cultural staple. The conversation with my new friend about churis helped me realize how much goes into the creation of making churis that the general public is not aware of.
He explained to me in great detail the many processes involved in creating this beautiful jewelry piece before it makes its way to the market for sale. He also explained the different levels of expertise for the bangle makers. The master churi maker, also known as the Churiwala, is a position held for the most skilled craftsman, who is responsible for rolling the churi from the molten glass oven. His salary is an average of $500 a month, which is quite high for an Indian craftsman, and therefore a position many strive to get. Unfortunately a Churiwala’s life span is only 40-50 years due to the harsh work environment of his role and the constant inhalation of toxic fumes. I was stunned… is the Churiwala being paid more to sacrifice his life so others can beautify theirs? If the community purchasing the churis on the market were aware of this situation, would they still wear the jewelry so proudly?
When discussing the possibilities of improving the life of the Churiwala with better working conditions, he explained that small-scale industries such as this, do not have access to the technology to create safer processes and with the industry being so competitive, these small scale producers cannot afford to invest in “expenses” even though it would ultimately create better conditions for their workers. This was a harsh realization for me – that in a close knit community, such as this, there is a lack of care for one another’s well being and that, only few are aware of reality like this. If that connection is lost within a close community such as this, how can we expect to create these connections on a bigger scale? The power of change must start from within and expand outward and it should begin with spreading awareness. Communities must be informed of the harsh work environments their citizens are being exposed to and how to prevent it from happening. This spontaneous interaction with my friend sparked a fire under me to want to make things right and reinforced the value in spreading awareness even on the smallest scale in order to create change. Knowledge truly is power and it is our duty to keep our communities informed.