The glass bangle making industry of Pakistan is a world not many people know about. It originated in Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh and was firmly established in Hyderabad after Partition. Hyderabad is the hub for bangle craftsmanship in Pakistan as it has the most appropriate weather conditions. Thirty-two glass bangle manufacturing units are situated here, out of which ten are automated. Almost 350,000 people are involved in the manufacturing, trading, packaging and transportation of glass bangles, which includes women and children. These bangles are rigid bracelets which have been worn for a long time in South Asia. This is evident from the fact that a statue of a dancing girl was unearthed in Mohenjo-Daro, which dates from around 2600 BC. Copious bangles encircle the lithe arms of the statue. Glass bangles are regularly worn by South Asian women and are an important part of the culture and tradition of this region. These are the accessories which truly complete a Desi ensemble.
We may never think about it, but the process of making bangles is extremely gruelling. The procedure involves several stages, each of which happens under a different roof and is carried out by a different pair of hands. Skilled labor is required, most of which is provided by women and children. It seems astonishing to consider it, but twenty-five people are involved in making a single glass bangle.
The first step is the collection of discarded pieces of glass by female workers. This is the raw material for the manufacturing of bangles. Next, the glass is melted into a glowing, red substance at temperatures of 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. Thin streaks of a viscous material are formed. This process is termed Sadai. The mixture is passed onto a roller machine, which converts the liquid into long rolls of glass, shaped circularly. These rolls are then separated into rings and a high temperature furnace adds glossiness and sheen. The next stage is called Jurai and involves, mainly, women. The opposite ends of a Choori or glass bangle are joined in a high flame, often with no cooling facilities in the room. The bangles are then sent for Meena Kaari in which glitter and crystals are added. They are painted in rooms filled with the smell of spray paint. The finished product is then packaged and sent to retailers.
Glass bangle makers are proud of their craft but the reality behind their smiles is revealed by the cuts and marks of glass on their hands and arms. We wear these bangles without giving a single thought to the hard work that goes behind making each circlet of glass. Workers pour their blood, sweat and tears in this craft but they receive little in return. Factory owners, dealers and retailers make the bulk of the profits. The craftsmen themselves are often paid as little as 300 Rs for fifteen days. This industry can be thought of as a ‘poverty hole’ which sucks in entire families. It is the livelihood for generations in a family, but only allows them to survive. The equipment which is used is ancient, with no safety mechanisms. Workers are not provided with helmets, gloves or goggles. They work with open flames and are exposed to very high temperatures. As a result, they suffer from poor eyesight and other ailments. In case of an accident, no medical facilities are provided to them and they are not compensated. Glass bangles are displayed in brightly lit shops and are worn with fervour. Behind the glitz are faces of workers who cannot even afford to light up their homes or buy the very ornaments they make with their own hands.