Lac: A Risky Craft

In India’s high earning lacquer industry, artisans work with poor infrastructure, taking big health risks.

Handcrafted Lacquer or Lac jewelry of Rajasthan is very popular among married Indian women such as our correspondent Sunita Kasera. In Sunita’s home town Karauli, several families – mostly from poor minority community – earn a living by crafting this jewelry. For years, Sunita has watched these families at work, and has noticed that many of them suffer from skin diseases such as rashes, itching, broken skin etc. rashes. She wanted to know if this was because of the work they do. So, recently she talked to a doctor in her community who told her that lac artisans indeed are at the risk of developing not just skin problems, but also respiratory problems such as asthma.

Lac is a colored varnish which is extracted of an insect. The artisans follow a complicated process of heating the lac, drying it and then cutting it in pieces to create accessories such as bangles, earrings and necklaces. These accessories are highly sought after as bridal accessories both in India and the Indian community living abroad. Bollywood is also a big buyer of lac accessories. According to Rajasthan government sources, gems & jewelry is one of the major industries in the state which helps earn over a billion US dollar every year.

But Sunita says that the artisans who make these accessories earn very little while taking big health risks. What concerns Sunita most is that that the artisans who even engage their children into lac bangle making, are not even aware of the health risks that they take every day. They work without using any protective gear such as masks or gloves.

Sunita feels it’s the duty of the industry to inform the rural artisans of the health hazards of their craft, and provide them adequate healthcare including safety equipments such as masks, goggles and hand gloves.

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