Firozabad, India – Firozabad, a small industrial town located nearly 200km from India’s capital, New Delhi, is known for its glass industry, particularly its famed bangles.
Chimneys bellowing black smoke from dilapidated glass factories show little sign of industrial modernisation as the traditional methods of glass-making are still largely prevalent.
Bangle-making is a household business with traditional technique being passed on through generations.
Firozabad has been producing glass bangles for more than 200 years now and is the biggest manufacturer of glass bangles in the world.
The bangle market in the town’s Gali Bohran has rows of colourful shops selling glittering, beautifully hand-crafted glass bangles.
But child labour and manpower exploitation is a sad reality as most of the factories are informally run by families or individuals.
“I have been working in the bangle industry since I was a child. These glittering bangles sold and bought without a thought are a result of our sweat and blood. Each bangles passes through at least 80 hands before it reaches the customer’s hand,” said Babu Ram Mishank, 80, president of a labourers’ union.
“Half of the work is done in factories but the other half, which is the most important, is done in people’s homes. Every family member works on bangles in such homes.
“Most of the children in this city work and help their parents in this industry. Only 40 percent of them manage to go to schools.”
Dijendra Mohan Sharma, a senior resident and journalist, told Al Jazeera that “about 90 percent of the population is directly or indirectly related to bangle industry”.
“There are more than 191 glass–bangle factories registered by government, and in a single factory around 200 people work,” he said.
Sharma believes that an abundance of silica sand used in making glass and cheap labour have led to proliferation of glass factories.
A worker in a glass factory begins his day at 4am and ends at 7pm. They are paid about 80-90 Indian rupees ($1.5) for a day of hard labour.
Anuj Sharma, 32, a glass–bangle businessman, said children are preferred for work in the industry as they are paid much less than their adult counterparts.
“They are paid 60 Indian rupees (approx $1) for doing quality checks of 16,000 glass bangles in one day. The quality checks involves touching each bangle with a stone and deciphering the sound it makes while doing so to ensure that no cracked or broken bangle manages to reach the final box for packing,” Sharma said.
The combination of chemicals, heat and glass used in this industry is a major health hazard for the workers who suffer from various medical disorders.
“I have been a doctor in this city for more than 30 years now. Most of the patients that I get for chest and lungs disorders are those who work in glass–bangle units,” said Dr Surinder Pal Singh Chauhan.
“They mostly suffer from tuberculosis or other fatal infections of the lungs and chest. Skin burns, allergies and decline in vision is also very common in these workers.”