Considered to be among the oldest professions, the blacksmith's trade has declined by almost 90 per cent in Sindh. Basically a profession of an agriculture-based society,the advent of machinery like the tractor andthresher has made the craft rapidly lose its importance .
Presently, the blacksmiths, known as lohars in Sindh, work only for a month a year - 10 days in the season of cultivation of the wheat crop and 20 days in the paddy crop season. They remain unemployed the remaining 330 days of the year. They feel that the increasing use of machines in farm lands is a great threat to their profession. "When the usage of threshers becomes common in the future, we will lose our job completely," said Abdul Ghani Lohar of Dokri, Larkana.
The history of the blacksmiths can be traced to Mohenjodaro where many tools have been found from the site of the great Indus Valley Civilization. Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the great poet of Sindh, has also praised the blacksmith's role in his poetry. In his work they emerge as great revolutionaries.
Earlier, blacksmiths used to make axes, swords, pistols, tamenchos, daggers, sumbos (tools used in the making of holes in wall), spades, kaati (a large knife), kaat (a cutting tool or a large knife), hatchets, skimmers, adzes, spoons, ghobo (blade used in a plough), tiphini, (used for baking roti) pick-axes, hand-cuffs and nel (horseshoes). Today, they make only sickles, because tools are either being made in factories or are no longer used. When the tractor was used for ploughing farm lands, the making of the ghobo, which was used in the plough pulled by a pair of bulls, lost its importance. Similarly, the use of bull-carts and bulls for ploughing have also become redundant.
Blacksmiths can make just 10 sickles a day and their annual income is only 15,000 rupees. For their livelihood they take loans and try to pay these back in the season of the cultivation of wheat and paddy crops, but they often fail to pay back the entire amount. The youth of the lohar community has left the profession asit requires hard labour with little income in return. It is only the elders of the community that are keeping this profession alive because they feel that no one from their community will be able to continue in this trade.It is only the most needy amongst the youth that are adopting the profession and that too temporarily .
Ahmed Ali, a science graduate of Dokri, became a blacksmith after he had been unemployed for a long period and had no means of supporting his family. Ali Bakhsh, an Intermediate student, has turned to the profession because he is the only surviving male member of his family which looks to him for financial support.
There are at present five houses of the lohar community in Dokri town. Among them Allah Warayo, Abdul Ghaffoor, Toto, Ali Hassan, Deedar, Ghulam Mustafa, Muhammad Suleman, Nooral and Qurban have their own workshops, while Ghulam Shabbir alias Baajha works from his home.
Lora are a gypsy-like community who, like the Brohi tribe, migrate to Sindh from Balochistan in the winter and set upworkshops near the new bus stand in Larkana city. The Loras make the tiphini, ghobo as well as axes. The lohars of Larkana purchase their items and sell them at nominal rates of interest. While lohars make sickles from steel, the Lora uses iron. Steel-made sickles are of a much higher quality than iron made ones.
Every region of Sindh has its own type of sickle. The kaapi sickle is used for pruning branches of trees; banana trees are cut by another type of sickle, which has no threads. Blacksmiths are charged 15 rupees for cutting threads on each old sickle, which are used in the cultivation of wheat and paddy crops. The original cost of a sickle is around 30 rupees. including the labour invested by a blacksmith on it. However, an ordinary sickle is sold for 60 rupees, while the Sindhi sickle is priced at 100 rupees. Interestingly, each part of Sindh has its own type of wooden handle used in the sickle. Almost all blacksmiths in the Larkana district use wooden handles made in Dokri.
Previously sickles were being made from a bow. Now iron strips, used in railway tracks, are also being used. This has led to people taking away material from railway lines and selling them to big traders which then finally reaches the blacksmiths. The various towns of Larkana district and some parts of Naushehro Feroz district are said to be big markets for such material.
For the past 20 years, Dokri has become famous for the making of quality sickles. People from far-flung areas of Sindh and Balochistan come here for their purchase. It is said that the sickles made by the older generation of the Lohar community have a life of about three years.
Previously the chand (moon) and leek (line), types of sickle were made. "Now the sickles made in Dokri have a year's life, while sickles made in other parts of Sindh have a life of just two months," said Ali Bakhsh Lohar. "We make good tools to maintain our forefathers' reputations."
A blacksmith's job requires hard work. Four blacksmiths work together on a single sickle during its production. In some areas of Sindh two people do the job together. Ayub Lohar was a hard working karigar of Dokri, who single-handedly made a hatchet, which is usually made by four people at a time.
To save their children from going hungry, some blacksmiths sell their sickles at half the price while others blacksmiths stock their products for the forthcoming season. Suleman, who is known as the best karigar in Dokri, stocks his products in the off-season which are then sold at a considerable profit later .
The blacksmiths of Sindh have not changed their lifestyles to match the demands of modern times. They still use fans instead of the dhanwan which is one reason why the survival of the indigenous community is now at stake.
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