Not many know of Parev, a hub of traditional brass utensil manufacturing units about 42 km from Bihar’s capital Patna. Dozens of big, medium and small units in the village supply brass utensils across Bihar, besides to neighboring Jharkhand and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Work in Parev thrives not with government’s support, but with the determination of the local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, and hardworking craftsmen. They have not only kept their traditional craft alive but ensured its growth. This is a rarity in rural Bihar, which is mainly agrarian.

“Once, only copper utensils were manufactured in a small way, but now Parev has made a name for itself in brass utensils manufacturing,” said Satay Prakash, who is in his late 60s.

Notwithstanding changing lifestyles and habits, brass utensils, considered auspicious, are still in demand, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas. Brass utensils are used for performing religious rituals at home and in temples, ensuring steady demand for manufacturers in Parev.

The government, however, has been quite apathetic when it comes to helping Parev’s small manufacturing units. It does not ensure easy availability of raw materials or uninterrupted power supply. Adequate facilities for taking loans are lacking as is essential infrastructure. “There is lack of support for brass utensil manufacturing units,” said Biresh Kumar, who runs a medium unit. “Successive state and central governments have done nothing but make repeated promises to develop Parev as a brass cluster.”

Parev is serviced by a single bank branch despite the manufacturers’ consistent demand for more branches to facilitate easy loans to entrepreneurs. The branch, of a nationalised bank, was started over four decades ago. “For small manufacturers or those running their units from home, it is difficult to get loans from the bank,” Mahender Kumar, who runs a manufacturing unit from home, said. “The bank prefers to provide assistance only to the big manufacturers.”

Parev's brass utensil manufacturing units provide livelihood to hundreds of villagers. Photo Credit: Mohd Imran Khan

Thriving business

“There are 25 big and medium brass utensil manufacturing units and 35 small units in Parev,” said Kaushal Kumar, who runs a small unit himself. “And there are no less than 50 retail and wholesale shops selling brass utensils.”

There is plenty of work for everyone, unlike in the past. “People are engaged in doing some or the other related work like flattening plates with hammer, giving shape to pots or bowls with chisels, and polishing utensils,” Kaushal Kumar said. According to Guddu Kumar, who runs a medium unit, business is better than what it was 10 years ago.

“Parev is probably the only village of its kind in Bihar where manufacturing units are running successfully,” said Raju Kumar, who owns a unit. “It is the village that pays the highest revenue to government in terms of electricity bills and taxes,” he said.

As the demand for brass utensils has grown in recent years, the manufacturers have seen their profits increase. “With income of people, especially in rural areas and small towns, increasing, they gift more brass utensils while giving their daughters in marriage and for religious rituals,” explained Biresh Kumar.

A few years ago, when the demand had slumped, Parev’s villagers would migrate to Nepal, Moradabad and Gujarat for work. “Now, there is no issue of livelihood as the demand has increased in the last few years,” Ravi Razak, a villager, said.

Razak said the demand peaks during the traditional marriage seasons, locally known as lagan, which fall in March, April-May and November-December.

Traditional craft

“We still follow the traditional technique here,” said Raju Kumar. “The lengthy process of making of brass utensils start with melting the raw material, molding it into nuggets, and flattening and shaping them.”

Golu Kumar, whose father owns one of the big manufacturing units, said 90% of the work is done manually. “Now that power supply has improved, we use some machines also,” he said. “But it is our specialty that most of the work is done by hand.”

Kallu, who has been making brass utensils for two decades, explained that they use earthen stoves buried in the ground to melt plates before shaping them. Master craftsmen make the designs, which have been passed down the generations orally.

Parev is home to around 1,500 families, mostly belonging to Thathera caste, designated among the Other Backward Classes. More than a fourth of the families are engaged in manufacturing brass utensils, from melting raw materials to giving shape and polishing.

District labor officials said brass utensil manufacturers in Parev have generated hundreds of jobs for skilled and unskilled workers. “More than 1,000 workers are engaged in brass utensil manufacturing in Parev,” they said. Some youth have come forward to become entrepreneurs.

The industry has thus allowed hundreds of villagers to work and prosper without having to leave their homes. “We get work through the year except for the two months of the monsoon,” said Razak.

Parev has nearly 50 retail and wholesale shops selling brass utensils. Photo Credit: Mohd Imran Khan

Way forward

Raju Kumar said the Goods and Services Tax has created more problems for the manufactures than it has helped. “GST is bad for us. We pay 18% on raw material and 12% on finished items which makes brass utensils costly for buyers, slowing demand,” he said.

Many of the manufacturers recounted facing difficulty bringing in raw materials because of police harassment. But power supply is better now compared to a few years ago when they would get only two to four hours of supply. “It was really tough to survive, but thanks to our community’s determination and hard-working employees, we are now in a better position,” said Sanjay Prasad, an entrepreneur.

Dileep Prasad, a manufacturer, said while making brass utensils may not be important for industrialised states, it is of great worth in Bihar as it offers livelihood to hundreds of rural families. “We have been struggling for years in the absence of government support and proper infrastructure,” he said. “The units producing brass utensils can become a brand in the country if government provides us assistance.”

This article first appeared on Village Square.