Dark days for West Delhi's diya artisans
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Dark days for West Delhi's diya artisans

As fancy Diwali items take over the market, traditional artisans are forced to sell their produce dirt cheap to predatory middlemen, making their survival tenuous.

Dark days for West Delhi's diya artisans

It's a harsh life for the families making earthen diyas. They get Rs 300-Rs 350 for a thousand pieces and there are no profits to be made — just survival. City Spidey visited the biggest colony of these artisans, in West Delhi, to find out how these potters eke out a living at a time when diyas — in their bespoke avatars — sell as packaged gift items in expensive retail stores.   

Harkishan Prajapati, president of Prajapati Colony in Indira Park, says, “West Delhi is the biggest production hub of these traditional earthen lamps and other pottery items. From here, these products are supplied to the NCR and other parts of the country." He further explains that this small-scale industry has flourished among migrated families from Rajasthan, Haryana, Bihar and UP for generations. In West Delhi, more than a thousand families are involved full time in this traditional work.



But as has been the case for other traditional artisans, the living conditions of this community have gone from bad to worse. Explaining their plight, Harkishan says, "They work round the clock around Diwali, but they are never sure of what their sales will look like. They sell about a 1,000 pieces for a measly Rs 300-Rs 350. It's a shame! They are unable to approach the market directly and have to sell their products through a middleman.”

Though middlemen have given them access to the market, the potters have been deprived of making a genuine profit. These intermediaries pocket huge sums, leaving the real artisans with minimum profits.

At Sainik Vihar and Prajapati Colony near Pankha Road, potters can be seen everywhere. Some have decorated their threadbare shops with finished items, while others have just laid out their humble products on the ground. A few are seen making fire to give a pukka finish to the diyas.

Sher Singh, a potter from Rajsthan at Sanik Enclave, speaks optimistically. “I have been here with my brother for more than two decades now," he says. "We are trying to make as many diyas as possible — we would really like to have some profit this Diwali. Everybody in the family — the elders, the children — have been given some work or the other. We are hoping our hard work will pay off."   



Another potter, Devender Prajapati, shares, “Our whole year depends on this one season. We are hoping to earn about Rs 50,000 and are really working towards it. But not sure whether we will be able to sell off all our products. The rates for diyas have not increased this year. The government should think about us too and do something.”

Patiram Prajapati, president of Daksh Prajapati Seva Samaj, Sainik Enclave, says, “There are 700 houses here with about 1,000 families. They just make earthen lamps and pots. Gamlas, or flowerpots, tulsi chaura [square decorative pots for planting tulsi] and other gift items are also made here. They are sold for anything between Rs 100 and Rs 1,000. But with the entry of fancy lamps and pots in the market, things have gone south for these artisans."



The potters have now shifted their focus on items that give them better margins. Artisan Jitender Kumar says, “Statues of Lord Shiva and decorated flowerpots bring in good money, so we give these more priority nowadays. Traditional diyas are made only in this season, as the margins are very low.”

The government needs to step up, feels Harkishan. These artisans must be provided a platform during the festive season where they can sell their products without interference from middlemen. He adds, "It is sad that there is no place for these people. They somehow manage a place in the local markets. But often, the local people and administration create problems for them, citing security reasons. The administration should make some arrangements for them during festivals such as Diwali, so they can sell their products without any fear. This will bring down interference from middlemen and promote this centuries-old craft.”