COVID-19: Cuttack’s silver filigree artists stare at a bleak future

The cottage industry is estimated to have taken a hit of Rs 20 crore in 2020 and losses keep mounting this year 

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 05 August 2021
COVID-19: Fate of Odisha's silver filigree artisans hang in balance. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Around 2,000 artisans in Odisha’s Cuttack, who make silver ornaments and souvenirs in the intricate designs of filigree technique have been struggling to make ends meet since the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in early 2020. 

The successive waves of the pandemic and lockdowns have ensured traders and regular customers cannot visit their workshops. Restrictions on gatherings put a pause on festivals and weddings, and subsequently diminished demand for jewellery and gift items. 

Debendra Sahoo, a filigree craftsperson in the city, has unsold items piling up in his house. “This  age-old  occupation has been a source of our livelihood for generations. The pandemic has dealt a severe blow to our businesses and we are suffering a lot,” he said. 

Those with a strong financial base managed to survive the lean months in 2020 but are also finding it difficult to stay afloat this year as the pandemic refuses to die down, said Pankaj Kumar Sahoo, another artisan from Cuttack. “We need more orders from export houses to keep our heads over water.”

The artform is more than 500 years old. “The filigree items we create don’t perish. They are passed on as heirlooms, almost as if they write history,” said Ramesh Sahoo, one of the artists.

But in the last two years, many artists had to take up other work to feed their families, said Sukant Sahoo, a filigree craftsperson. 

The cottage industry is estimated to have taken a hit of Rs 20 crore last year alone owing to the lockdowns. The artisans fear the crisis will deepen this year. 

“The state government granted Rs 5 crore to the government-managed handloom market Utkalika to purchase craft items from the artisans to mitigate their plight during pandemic,” said Sanatan Nayak, director of the handicrafts and cottage industries department of the state government.

Recently, the Odisha State Cooperative Handicrafts Corporation Ltd has submitted an application as well, seeking a geographical indication tag for Cuttack’s silver filigree art to preserve its uniqueness, he added. 

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