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Why Ramzan is a lowkey affair for glass bangle makers and traders of Firozabad?

Rana Siddiqui Zaman

Come Ramzan and Indian markets are full of attractive bangles for the ladies and children. While we adorn our babies and ourselves with these, buy some for gifting and festivals, weddings, or other ceremonies, we barely realize what goes into making these stunning plain to meenakari glass bangles; who burns the midnight oil so women could feel better flaunting them.

The hub for glass bangles is Firozabad, the bangle city barely 250 kilometers from Delhi. The moment you enter the city, you know you are in Firozabad. Thick garlands of red, green blue, and yellow bangles could be seen on cart-wheels, bicycles and rickshaws, motorbikes, and people carrying them on their shoulders, ferrying them from the makers to the open markets, street markets, loading them in trucks for transporting to other cities. The otherwise drab town with nothing particular to boast of, brightens up with shades of the bangles seen almost at every 50 meters.

A scene inside Bangel factory of Ferozabad

Interestingly, to attract customers, the bangle sellers name the bangles after popular Bollywood heroines; so a bright red would be named Madhuri Dixit (Madhuri Choodi), to shades of yellows as Karishma, Kareena, and Sonam, even on yesteryears divas Geeta Bali and Meena Kumari (the one with delicate meenakari).

It is interesting to know that Firozabad was not the hub for glass bangles till Rustam Bhai changed the fortune of the city 150 years ago.

Here is the interesting tale of how Firozabad became the hub of glass bangles. Earlier the bangles were being made at district Aligarh, then over 50 kilometers from Firozabad in small towns of Hasayain, Purdil Nagar, Jalesar, and Akrabad, though all the labourers would travel from Firozbad to Aligarh for the job. (These towns now come under the Hathras and Etah districts in Uttar Pradesh).

When Rustam Ali who hailed from Firozabad, realized that instead of traveling far, the locals could work in the city. He set up factories in the city. He provided jobs and also expanded the manufacturing and market for Bangels. Soon, Firozabad had turned into the Bangle city of India. Soon, many moneyed Hindus, Marwadis, Jains, Gujratis, and Muslims set up Bangel-making factories attracting 90 percent were local Muslims, while the rest came from outside and took over the transport, marketing, and other related work. Even today, 90 percent of the bangle work in Firozabad is done by locals by hand. The non-locals are largely engaged in packing and ferrying

Rustam is venerated as ‘Ustad ji’ (the teacher) by the locals; from big factory owners to small workers. They visit his shrine located at the center of the city and pay their obedience. 

Hands that make Bangels

The process of bangle-making is as tough as easy it is to wear one. It ungeroes 28 processes called judai (to join) katrai (to cut) sadhai (to shape) rangai (to colour), urayi (to ornate), pirayi (to string), baghari (to bundle) etc. 

Huge bunches of glass bangles are called todas, A factory with 250 workers makes around 3,500 todas a day. A bunch of 280 to 365 bangles (called a muththa) takes 70 hours from scratch to finish. Womenfolk make muththas at home and play their role in the economy. These are divided into clusters, knotted together, packed in cardboard boxes, and transported to domestic and foreign markets.

 Fortunately, I didn’t see a single child working in any of the factories I visited. The labour force is between 20 and 65 years of age and each earns around Rs.500 a day, 

However, this Ramzan, things aren’t as bright as the bangles are. A 52-year-old Azhar Nafees, who owns the city’s biggest bangle factory Patel Glass House, may not see its shutters opening any day soon, since its closure due to a slump in the market six years ago.

“The slump in the market for bangles has been for almost eight years. Post 2016, it has become worse. We are functioning at 15 percent of our capacity. Since it is a cash economy and the business runs on trust and credit, the bangle sellers/manufacturers are witnessing a big fall in the business.” he rues.

“Ramzan this year is going to be lackluster.”


Author (Second from left) with Athar Nafees, owner of Patel Glass House in Ferozabad

In Firozabad the ratio of Muslim workers to others is 60:40, respectively, therefore, for most Muslim families, this year’s Eid would be thinly budgeted. 

Looking back, the situation started going worse after 2015. By this year, half of the 200 factories had closed down. “For almost a year or so, the decline was faster. “Today barely 14 factories are functional,” says Anwar, a senior factory owner and retailer.

The slump in the market was caused by a sudden four-time hike in gas prices used for the furnace, and an almost double rise in the cost of raw materials such as soda, ash, arsenic, sand, mica, zinc, and borax. “Besides, the complex GST rules have further broken our spine”, rues Guddu, an assistant to Patel Glass House and a freelance worker.

Zahid Mohib who lost his job after the factory he worked with, put down its shutters, says that the wine shops are doing a brisk business.“It is like a daily essential that sells vigorously. No Muslim workers work in wine bottle-making units, so whatever odd jobs they are getting, they are doing it.” 

He freelances as a skilled worker and also ferries bangles to nearby cities to keep the kitchen to home going.

However, the markets are opening and ladies are thronging to them in search of more affordable bangles this year.

A Muslim woman who didn’t want to disclose her name says, “Come what may, I will never stop buying bangles on Eid. I also gift it to the ladies in my family and my non-Muslim friends each year. 


Bundles of Bangels being carted out of the factory

“Around Eid, we make sure, we buy clothes that match our bangles,” laughs, a 60-year-old Hindu woman accompanying her Muslim friend.

The two are neighbours and they say their families have seen good and bad days together “for more than five decades, so nothing spoils our spirit of togetherness.”

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The duo will also purchase bangles on Holi which arrives on March 25.

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