Bell making is a traditional craft of the Muslim Luhar community residing in the Kutchh region of India. The art form is the sole source of income for the majority of the local population here. The work is carried out by the entire family involving women artisans also.
In order to make these artisans self sustainable and to provide them a market platform , SETU has partnered with the local NGO Khamir.
Copper bell making is a complex process involving many steps like sheet cutting, sheet moulding, bridging and lapping. The bells are heated at high temperature levels ranging from 750-1200 degree centigrade specifically in wood charcoal. This involves heating of iron structures coated with brass and copper powders, the process needing high temperature furnaces. Majority of the artisans still lack professional manufacturing infrastructure and work from their homes on local or homemade furnaces in absence of proper safety systems. The furnaces are small with poor exhaust & insulation systems. The artisans are constantly exposed to fumes. Thus, to safeguard their health, adequate measures in terms of safety kits and technical up gradation are of utmost importance.
Realising the gravity of the problem, SETU had earlier sponsored safety kits to the bell making artisans in 2010. The kits comprised of hand gloves, masks and furnace eye glasses ensuring the safety of artisans at workplace.
To further safeguard the health of the artisans, SETU had been working on providing the artisans with technically improved, modern scale kilns. It will not only protect the health conditions of the artisans working in the vicinity of furnaces but will also result in less heat loss that in turn will cause less fuel consumption & also to increase productivity.
A lot of experiments were done, involving key members from SETU, Khamir & outside expert agencies involving leading Engineering & Design institutes and many models of furnaces were prepared and trials taken. Copper-bell making artisans from the nearby villages of Bhuj, Jura and Nirona were involved.
After path breaking efforts by the committee, the blueprint to install modern copper bell furnaces was finalised. Furnaces with exhaust system were designed using standard bricks that can tolerate temperatures higher to the level of 1200 degree centigrade & which could keep the fumes away from artisans, preventing direct inhalation. Also, less heat is released in the surroundings and thus the artisans are exposed to lesser heat. The new furnaces provide ease of working and provide an improved production capacity. They also prevent release of sparks which (in case of older kilns) would many times cause burns on artisans’ skin & clothes. Presently five furnaces have been created and artisans are using them successfully. The performance of these kilns is being studied and soon more such furnaces would be installed in the next phase, with further modifications if needed. All these furnaces have been sponsored by SETU.
Artisans working with new modern Furnaces
Advantages of Furnaces over the traditional technique of bell making :
• Working with furnaces will definitely improve the health conditions of artisans as no smoke would be inhaled.
• They prevent release of fire sparks which could burn artisans’ skin and clothes. This problem was faced with traditional furnaces.
• Furnaces release lesser heat compared to the amount of heat emitted in the traditional process of bell making.
• Less heat loss means less fuel is required.
• Higher productivity.
As one of the artisans said, “Our life span has increased by 10 years because of these furnaces” This one line summarizes the benefits of furnaces!!