By Annu Kaushik
Colored glass artefacts adorn an under-construction house in the Chinnathupakkam village, near Periyapalam, Thiruvallur district. A migrant family from Gujarat had introduced a folk element from their erstwhile village to their new home.
The Rathods are glass-makers from Kubernagar village in Ahmedabad district, Gujarat who came to the village two months back to sell their products in Chennai. But an unsettling issue is bothering these recent settlers. The village Panchayat has asked them to vacate the house.
A panchayat official said, “The building they were staying in was a government property.”
“Now that the government wanted to start construction work, they have no choice but to vacate,” he continued.
The Rathods belong to the Bawri tribe of Gujarat. A close-knit family, they are in total 15 people who have been engaged in this occupation since the past six generations.
“We can’t look for another house here since the locals charge a very high a rent from us,” said 24-year-old Arjun Rathod.
“The boys are introduced to this profession when they are 10 years old but the girls aren’t engaged in it,” he added.
“The girls are married off early because child marriage is very prevalent in their community,” he added.
The family has been travelling all over India for the past 15 to 20 years.
“There are a lot of glassworkers in our district so the competition is very high,” said 45-year-old Shiva Rathod.
“But in the rest of India, there are hardly any competitors so we sell our goods at a much higher rate than our native place,” he added.
They claim to be fluent speakers of Tamil and Kannada.
“We wanted to stay in this village for a longer time because the facilities in Tamil Nadu are really good,” said 22 old year Sooraj.
“Amma (Jayalalithaa) did a better job than Modi (Narendra) did in our state.
“She provided cheap food and water to the poor people,” he said referring to the Amma canteens.
The Rathods went to attend late Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa’s funeral at the Marina beach.
But the demonetisation struck them as soon as they came to the state. “The Bank of Baroda did not exchange our notes saying that we have a Gujarat ID card,” said Arjun.
They got their notes exchanged with the help of other villagers but with a ‘commission’ charge. After demonetisation, they witnessed a lull in their business for almost a month but sales shot up after Christmas.
But the cyclone Vardah cost them much more as it destroyed glass artefacts worth Rs 30,000.
They used to buy old glass from glass factories in Sowcarpet who sell the residue at a very cheap rate. The raw material costs them around Rs. 50 while they sell the finished glassware at Rs. 500 in the markets of Parry’s, Sowcarpet and Vadapalani.
“It’s the art which is expensive but no one appreciates it,” said Shiva.
According to the Rathods, the government has done little to recognize glass making as an art.
They are now preparing to leave for Karnataka where they will sell plastic flowers, an art that they learnt from the handicraft workers from Rajasthan.
The nomadic life, though good for their business, has deprived them of a proper education.
Arjun had to drop out of a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering when his father passed away. Now he’s the sole breadwinner of his family which includes a handicapped brother and an unmarried sister.
“We want to go back to our village but the Panchayat is very strict,” said Arjun.
“The Panchayat puts a lot of restrictions on girls, and even the boys are married early leaving no scope for education,” he continued.
But some of the women receive education, said 24-year-old Suraj Rathod whose wife, Kanchan, has studied till class 7 but never took up any work. At the age of 20, Kanchan is a mother of two.
Arjun hopes that the younger generation would end the domination of the Panchayat which does not allow any matters of legal dispute to go to the court. Ostracism follows any opposition to its authority.
Till then, said Sooraj, they will keep exploring new places.