Goldsmiths and the Informal Sector : A Study on the Changing Nature of a Caste Occupation
Associate Professor,Department of HSS
Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, INDIA
The contribution of the informal or unorganised sector to the economy is significant in developing economies. But their role and potential to a developing economy has attracted attention only in the last two decades.This paper attempts to understand the contribution made by one such vital sector –the craftsmen specifically the Goldsmiths in the city of Chennai, South India. The paper addresses their caste background and occupational compulsions,potential for entrpreneurship and their social status in the changing dynamics of their occupation in an urban context.
The Goldsmiths form one of the five artisan castes in south India. The four others being : the Blacksmith [works with iron], the Brass smith,the Stone mason and the Carpentor. This traditional caste occupation which has been passed on through an oral tradition demands full time internship from childhood has faced many challenges due to changes in the economic arrangements in the society. Jewellery making and selling has been influenced by demands of standardisation and quality control. Consequently mechanisation of labour in the initial stages of the craft has become inevitable,leading to a decline in the demand for craftsmen.
However, for those who can afford ,a piece of jewellery is a customised product – the difference now being that the craftsmen accept orders thourgh the jewellery showrooms and not directly from the customer/client unlike earlier times. This paper will capture the fragile status of such goldsmiths who work with high value products but remain in the informal sector and are highly vulnerable to job security and find little space in any policies to nurture or protect their skill and craft.