Updated February 1st, 2024 at 07:25 IST

Exhibitions to showcase craft, export avenues among Amroha Dholak makers’ wishlist

Amroha dholak makers voice their opinions to demand better export avenues, bigger markets, and electricity subsidies ahead of interim budget 2024.

Reported by: Anirudh Trivedi
Amroha dholak | Image:Flickr
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Sound of Amroha: Amroha Dholak has been a widely popular musical instrument across the world for generations with craftsmen from Amroha maintaining the quality, reputation and dignity of the product and producers. Amroha is home to more than 300 small units producing wood-based dholak, which employs over 1000 artisans in the district. From gaining its Geographical Identity (GI) tags to becoming part of Uttar Pradesh’s One State-One Product programme, multiple government initiatives have breathed new life into the city’s once looming dholak manufacturing. 

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Image credit: Republic Business

Before this year’s interim budget on February 1, 2024, Republic Business reached out to craftsmen who still carry the centuries-old traditional art of making Amroha dholak. 

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No exports from Amroha

Mohd. Junaid is a 3rd generation Dholak maker and supplies Dholaks in all key markets across India including Delhi, Mumbai, Ujjain, Haridwar, Varanasi, and more.  Junaid told Republic Business that no one in the city exports dholaks out of India as it is done by other intermediaries based in Delhi and Mumbai. 

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“We never thought of exporting or expanding our reach outside the country. Partially it is the unfamiliarity with the procedure and a part of it is the unwillingness to complicate our business. Language is another great barrier as it is difficult for us to deal with the end-client when compared to those sitting in Delhi.” 

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Wooden shells of Dhapli, another percussion instrument made in Amroha, drying after a paint job | Image credit: Republic Business

Our hands have the skills but there are many complications in starting exports from Amroha, said Junaid. 

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“Even though the quality of dholaks is critical, having a strong cash flow and the ability to take risks is also very important to start exporting from the city. I am sure our next generation will be more entrepreneurial and I would love to see exports getting started from Amroha.” 

E-commerce challenge

According to a study by Appriss Retail and the National Retail Foundation, more than 200 billion worth of e-commerce returns were initiated in 2021. Returns cost businesses about 66 per cent of the original item's price. Even if the item is returned in good condition, the entire returns process will still be costly because of the required labour, transport, and inspection. 

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Mohd. Junaid, a third-generation dholak maker from Amroha | Republic Business 

Junaid also shared his experience experimenting with online platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart to sell dholaks. However, it proved to be challenging as customers often ordered the dholaks for specific events, only to initiate return requests afterwards. This led to a high rate of returns, with instances of the returned products being damaged or altered. 

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“Selling the dholaks to middlemen is a secure avenue for us, as it shifts the entire risk associated with returns to these intermediaries,” said Junaid

Increasing labour demand and declining interest 

Making dholaks is a long process, from cutting the wood, drying it for months, painting it and then binding the animal hide on top of it, which can take even 6 months. The process involves shaping and hollowing out the drum, crafting the two-headed design that characterises the dholak.

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Electric machine to carve out Dholak | Image credit: Republic Business

The craftsmen mostly work with locally produced hand tools while machines are used for smoothening the outer shell and cutting the trunks into smaller parts. Before the shells are closed with animal hide. Depending upon the expertise, workers are paid Rs 30 to Rs 5o per dholak and each worker on average can make around 20 dholaks in a day. 

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However, closing the dholak with animal hide is a highly dangerous process as if not put properly, the strongly stretched animal skin can shoot back to hit the worker. Junaid told us that many of his workers have faced multiple injuries due to this and new workers are hesitant to join the craft. 

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Drying shells of dholaks | Image credit: Republic Business

Mohammed Sahir Ansari, another dholak maker from Amroha shared that the young generation is not interested in making dholaks as most of them are chasing jobs in bigger cities. Even though the workers are being paid well, the old fine craft is being depleted slowly as the new workers are not patient enough to learn the intricate details of dholak making. 

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However, he also believes that only educated youth can take the local craft to a global stage which will benefit their entire fraternity. 

GI tag, GST, and Government initiatives

Dholaks which are widely used in qawwali, kirtan, lavani and bhangra are one of Amroha’s seven distinctive products that have secured Geographical Indication (GI) tags from the Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai. Amroha dholak is also part of the state Government’s One District-One Product (ODOP) programme that aims to encourage indigenous and specialised products and crafts in UP that are found nowhere else. 

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A worker chopping a tree trunk in a local dholak production unit | Image credit: Republic Business

Iqbal Saifi of IS Musicals shared, “The government’s initiatives are actually helping us on the ground. Amroha’s dholak got its long-due recognition after we got the GI tag. It has also led to more demand but we still feel that we should also be given the chance from the government to present our products on a larger platform.” 

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“GST has helped us a lot. Initially, we faced some complications to get the registration done but after that, it turned out to be really helpful for us. It has simplified the tax and is much more transparent,” Saifi added. 

Saifi also shared the problems that they face regularly. “Electricity cost is a major burden for us and while other industries are getting the subsidies on their electricity bill, we are yet to receive any despite being part of ODOP.” 

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On the other hand, Ansari hoped that the government would introduce policies to introduce marketing platforms for the artisans to weed out the intermediaries.

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Published January 18th, 2024 at 19:17 IST