Who are the Goldsmiths? Migrant Artisans' Guilds and the Changing Contours of Goldsmithing in India
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In India, while gold is a highly regulated and monitored commodity, goldsmithing has been primarily an unregulated economic activity. The paper describes how goldsmithing, which was once a caste-based occupation, gradually shifted towards an occupation based on village networks and regional ties. Our study shows that the bulk of goldsmiths in India belong to certain districts of West Bengal. The multi-sited fieldwork in three states of India suggests that while migration had started from West Bengal in the 1980s after the devastating flood of 1978, large-scale migration for ‘gold work’ began in the 1990s. With the repeal of the Gold (Control) Act of 1968 in 1990, the gold industry expanded and provided an opportunity to these ‘new goldsmiths’ to join the work-force. Liberalization, economic restructuring and institutional reforms further impacted the informal goldsmithing economy. In this context, the ‘new goldsmiths’ from Bengal developed a network of artisans who travelled to different states within India as well as to Nepal and Bangladesh. Referred to as ‘gold engineers’ in their villages, they brought in remittance, hopes of upward mobility and a new identity. Their work reveals an interesting collocation of traditional guild-like work structure on one hand and introduction of new technology on the other. There has also been a dispute whether goldsmithing was a craft or an industry. The paper will also touch upon the relation between the informal goldsmithing sector and gold consumption patterns in India.
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