Potters do brisk business in the festival season. In fact, the potters colonies in the urban villages dotting Delhi’s terrains, begin to look like busy factory floors with every household wielding a potter’s wheel. They churn out thousands of earthen diyas (lamps), images, urns and sundry decoration pieces at a feverish pace, to cater to the Diwali revellers.
Pottery has always flourished in India. Remember the assortment of vessels dug up in the sites of Mohenjodaro and Harappa? So if it remains in demand even today, we should be proud, right? After all, earthen products are extremely environment friendly. And the industry provides livelihood to a sizeable portion of the Indian population.
True. But perhaps its time to scratch the surface and dig a little deeper now.
While the stuff that is spun out of the wheel is harmless enough, the way they are baked into shape is not. In the traditional method, the clay is thrown on a hand spun wheel and beaten with a paddle to create the final round bellied shape. Then the vessel is baked in a kiln. And the kilns are fired by burning wood dust, coal and more dangerously, rubber and plastics collected from landfills. These are cheap fuels that release highly toxic gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. For the potters who are directly exposed to these, its like inhaling poison. Result? Lung diseases, asthma, bronchitis…a cocktail of ailments.
Not cheap. Just poor.
Why do the potters use such cheap fodder to light their kilns? Not because they are loathe to spend more, but because they cannot afford to. Even though the volume of production is considerable (around 50,000 units on an average per family), and some massive pottery units operate in states like West Bengal, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh catering to a rapidly growing market abroad, this industry is still an unorganised one. In other words, it does not receive any benefit or protection from the government. So the profit margins of the potters are abysmally low. No wonder they are forced to cut corners.
Help clean up their act!
So what can be done to help them? Modern kilns powered by gas or electricity are cleaner and more environmentally friendly. They have been already been widely adopted by countries like Sri Lanka, Egypt and Vietnam which, unlike India, treat pottery as an organized sector. These electricitypowered kilns are much more efficient than the rubber-fired ones. And they protect the health and livelihood of those who work with them.
- Paras Tyagi