Shankhari Bazaar

Shankhari Bazaar or Hindu Bazaar in Old Dhaka is the centre of shankha art in the city. Shankha is the sketching, designing cutting, cleaning, carving, and polishing, of conch shells to make jewelry for women. There are the six traditional stages followed in making an artistic shankha of conch shells into bangles for women, After the cutting and cleaning, pairing and rounding are done by machine. Once Shankhari Bazaar was famous as the place of art in Dhaka but the traditional Shankha industry is now struggling for survival because of competition from low priced and mass-produced Indian products and excessive prices of raw materials, due to government taxes. Moreover, the diminishing market for this product also contributes to the general poverty associated with the industry. Mithun Nagh, a Shankha entrepreneur says, "This is our family business, which comes from our forefathers. The price of raw materials is rapidly increasing. So this industry is harassed for existence. In India, the tax on the raw material only 5%, but here in Bangladesh it is 35%. So Indian prices attract the local customers because of their low price. To save this industry we need to make it competitive. For this purposes we need government assistance and patronage. Moreover, there is a reduction of sales on a daily basis because of the high prices. Before the price of a pair of shankha was within 70-100 taka range, but now it is now Tk. 400, making it very difficult for the poor (nearly 80% of the population) to buy. If the majority of the poor can not buy shankha, how can the industry survive?". As an alternative for the high priced real shankha, the low quality plastic shankha is available for only 10 taka. | It is the tradition of married Bengali Hindu women to wear 'shankha' and 'sindur' (vermilon) on forehead. Hindus believe that shankhas are supposed to keep the mind and body cool. However, conch-shell elements (like carbon) protect women from diseases. In the recent past Hindu women also wore Shankha's earrings, necklaces and other attractive ornamentsas a matter of course. However, as religious values have changed, the use of shankhas has also rapidly decreased. Most of shankha artists are from the lower middle class whose daily income is around 70 -- 120 taka per day, a significant decrease from the 1980s when it was 200 -- 250 taka a day. There were originally 142 shankha shops in the market but now only fifteen remain. Narrow roads, high-density living and lack of facilities characterize the bazaar. Most of the houses are over 100 years old and the community lives in a high risk and unhealthy environment. In 2004 one old building collapsed taking nineteen lives. These conditions and their attendant poverty, contribute to the forgetting of traditional life and occupations. Shankha entrepreneur, Omio Kumar Soor says, "This is the time to save the traditional Shakhari Art by the governmental patronage. If government reduces the tax compared to India, this industry could be encouraged and it could survive. However, there is a need to make shankha popular with all Bangladeshi people and not just Hindus. We want to escape the use of Shankha from the Hindu religious realm. If all Bangladeshi, particularly the cultured peoples used the shankha as a common Bengali tradition, it would increase the industry, artists will get more work and the industry will saved."