Kashmiri jewellers strike hits Bengali artisans hard

SRINAGAR: Behind the glitter of Kashmir’s jewellery sector is a 15,000 strong workforce of Bengali karigars (artisans) — working in gold processing and manufacturing units here — who claim to have been hit hard by the ongoing strike by gold dealers.
Even though many artisans say that their work does not come under the ambit of the new excise duty announced by the GoI in this year’s budget, they fear that stringent regulations may hit major goldsmiths here that can have bearing on their work too.
Jewellers and gold dealers here are supporting a pan-India strike from March 2 against the proposed 1 per cent hike in excise duty on non-silver jewellery, saying that it would trigger harassment at the hands of excise officials.
The gold manufacturing and processing units at city’s two predominant gold markets – Saraf Kadal and Amirakadal – have been shut ever since the strike of jewellers and gold dealers began.
These highly skilled artisans come all the way from West Bengal to work for Kashmir goldsmiths. They say that Bengali artisans hold a sway over the production line of non-silver jewellery all over India and goldsmiths in Kashmir too depend on them for design and manufacturing works.
Abdul Qudous from West Bengal has been working here for the past 25 years at old city Saraf Kadal. He said the Bengali workers mostly engage in design and manufacturing works passed on to them by gold dealers and jewelers.
His companion Ramzan who hails from North 24 Pargans in West Bengal said that they have been idle for long. He said the artisans want the strike to end soon as it has hit their earnings hard.
“We are more than 15,000 string work force, but do not have a union of our own and have clubbed with the local unions here to fight this additional excise hike,” he said.
For many workers, lack of work and no earnings means going back home. “But the jewelers here are not clearing the payments for the work we have done for them completed. So we are literally stuck here,” said the artisans. Many artisans say processing of gold locally too can be hit, if the law is enforced strictly.