In a hot, crowded room in Salem city, Soundarya, 23, and her mother Kamala act like automatons, orderly placing small designs of silver flowers on a pre-made cast of silver anklets . Moments from her laborious job, Ms Soundarya says she has been working in a makeshift silver anklets factory for the past three years.
“Earlier, learning the job was extremely difficult, but with time and patience, anyone can pick it up in a few months,” she adds. Ms Soundarya and her mother are permanent workers in the workshop, although in other workshops, workers are paid based on the number of anklets they perform per day.
The two are among an estimated 1.5 lakh-plus workers distributing silver anklets in 168 villages of the city.
While the historical roots of the cottage industry are unclear, C Sri Anantharajan, president of Salem District Silver Kolusu Nirman Kavinai Sangam, believes that the merchants of Salem, who will travel to other parts of the state, will be one of the primary dealers. Who made the industry famous. “Among the goods they sold were silver anklets, and gradually, the quality and complexity of the designs set Salem’s silver anklets apart from designs produced at other places,” he says.
Making silver anklets involves over 20 steps, from melting silver bars imported from China to casting the metal into pre-made casts and finally customizing each design by hand, adding patterns and designs, says R. Gyansamy says, another employee in a manufacturing unit.
“The industry is flourishing as anklets are very important for the social life of the people in Tamil Nadu. Every important event in a woman’s life, from her birth to her wedding, is gifted to her by her loved ones with silver anklets,” he says. Manufacturers say more than 1,000 unique designs are created in workshops in the district.
“Each design has a unique name, Menaka, Savitri, Chintamani, Murukku from Kolusu and others, each marking a different occasion,” says Mr. Anantharajan.
Silver anklet makers are demanding that a Geographical Indication (GI) tag be approved for Salem silver anklets to prevent duplication by large jewelery makers. “Anklets born in Salem are sold to some of the biggest jewellers” Sellers in India through intermediaries. Our fear is that our designs may be used without consent by large manufacturers who may overtake us by using large-scale manufacturing techniques,” says a manufacturer from Shevapet.
The recent announcement of the government to set up a production center for silver anklets has been welcomed by the manufacturers. Many believe that this facility will reduce manufacturing costs by bringing together producers of the various components used in making silver anklets. “However, a lot still needs to be done,” says Mr. Anantharajan, adding that the makers face many problems in taking their anklets to other districts.
“Most of the manufacturers are poor and middle class people who carry anklets in big carry bags in buses. We are regularly stopped by the police, who suspect that we are criminals and are trying to escape with valuables. The Ministry of Textiles has given us identity cards confirming our being artisans. We have called upon the state government to recognize these identity cards so that our traders can be saved from the slander of being taken to the police station and questioned,” he says.