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     Volume 8 Issue 71 | May 29, 2009 |

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Shankha -away from
Shankhari Bazar

Madan Sahu

Bindu Biswas at work.

Many of us do not know that the craft of 'Shankha' (conch shell bangle) is not confined to Shankhari Bazar of Dhaka. Shankhari Bazar is, of course, the centre of this handicraft, but at some other parts of the country too, some artisans are quietly crafting out the item. They may not belong to the 'Shankhari' (Shankha craftsman) community, but are no less skilled than any other.

Bindu Biswas and her husband Bijon Biswas belong to this non-Shankhari group. They live far away from the capital, at Sitarampur village of Narail Sadar thana. They collect whole conch shells from Noapara of Jessore and get them sliced in a machine there, then bring the material home and make the bangles with careful craftsmanship. Noapara is an important conch shell-selling centre. Even Shankharis of Dhaka often collect conch shells from there. For whatever reason, the people of these areas prefer to procure their required 'shankha' locally. Bindu Biswas and Bijon Biswas are supplying the bangles for 40 years as a source of livelihood. It has almost become their family trade or occupation, although they are traditionally carpenters. Here elder and younger brothers-in-law, their sons -- all are occupational carpenters.

There is no market as such for shankha in the area, but demand for a limited number of bangles is always there. There are some others, too, like Bindu Biswas engaged in the craftsmanship and occupation here. In Hindu marriage, like vermilion (Sindur), a pair of conch-shell bangles is also an essential item of requirement. Married Hindu women must wear shankha in their hands. A pair lasts for quite a long time; but it is not unbreakable. If and when broken, a new pair is required. It is quite costly also. An ordinary or general pair costs at least Tk 500, and a pair specially designed for gold plating or wiring is priced as high as Tk 1500. So the low sales are covered by high price. However, for running such business you need quite a bit of capital.

For manufacturing the bangle you need to buy conch shell, which is no cheap item. Then it has to be sliced, which involves charges. There is also the risk of it getting broken during manufacturing. Moreover, most selling is on credit. Acquainted customers from their own and neighbouring villages buy the item when they need but pay after harvesting and selling of crops. In the process a considerable number of sellers money are stuck with the buyers. So to run this business, however small in size, a contain amount of start up capital, is required. This problem of Bindu Biswas and Bijon Biswas has been resolved to a good extent by microcredit.

Twelve years ago Bindu Biswas took her first loan of Tk 5,000/- to keep their business running. Thereafter, each year she took new loans from ASA ( a local NGO) repaying the previous one and increasing the amount as required, which, increased the volume of work too. At present, as a member of ASA Narail Sadar thana branch, she is repaying the 12th loan of Tk 20,000/- in regular installments. She is not too concerned with the sale proceeds being stuck with the buyers. That will be realised in the course of time, while new amounts will be due, again realised, again due -- this is the cycle of business. If the business is expanded, she might take a small entrepreneur's loan from ASA.

The craft of shankha - making is quite meticulous and time consuming. The couple can manufacture 5/6 ordinary or general pairs a day at best and not more than one pair of those specially designed for gold plating or wiring. Profit margin is sometimes good, sometimes less, sometimes even nothing if the bangle is broken while manufacturing. Still whatever they have managed to earn from this trade allows them to earn a fairly decent income. They have managed to get two sons married and their only daughter is an SSC examinee, a meritorious student who hopes to get a good grade. Her parents want her to continue her education.

While others in the family prefer carpentry as a means of livelihood, Bindu Biswas and husband Bijon Biswas are just holding on to the shankha craft that they took up 40 years ago despite the risks of giving the products on credit. The microcredit facility has made them optimistic. When they are able to repay their loan, the future is no longer so bleak rather it is quite bright. Moreover their effort could keep the craft alive, even in a remote village like Sitarampur.

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