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The Moradabad district in Northern India has long been known for its history of horn and bone handicrafts. Within this district lies Serai Tareen, a small town where every street and alleyway is lined with tiny workshops dedicated to transforming waste horn and bone (byproducts of the Indian meat industry) into functional and decorative items. Carts coming in and out of Serai Tareen are stacked high with horns and bones from every corner of India. In every workshop one can find stacks of beautiful handmade bangles, boxes, frames- all carefully crafted from recycled Water Buffalo horns and bones that would have been otherwise discarded.
Serai Tareen is named for the Tareen tribe, one of the largest Pashtun tribes originating from present-day Afghanistan. The Tareens settled in the area during the 12th-17th centuries, and Serai Tareen is one of the few places in India where they still reside to this day. Life is not easy here. Most of the inhabitants live in poverty with limited access to electricity and other basic services, making frigid temperatures in the wintertime even more unbearable. The town is also heavily dependent on the horn and bone craft; family income is based on demand for these products and therefore unpredictable. For over 20 years Asha Handicrafts has been working hand-in-hand with several groups throughout the region to ensure steady demand and international distribution for the traditional crafts from this area, thereby boosting the local economy and transforming lives through sustainable job creation.
In this interview with Mela Artisans, master craftsman Mohammad Muzim (pictured below), tells us about his career in the horn and bone industry.
“My name is Mohammad Muzim, and I have been working with horn and bone for more than 20 years now. My father never taught me this craft- I took the initiative to learn myself and am completely self-taught. When I was younger I began going around the town, to different artisan units, watching them work. I saw how they would make jewelry pieces, boxes, and photo frames.
Eventually I tried doing it myself and after about a year of watching and learning in this manner, I had picked up the craft well enough to begin working as an artisan for one of the local groups. I worked there for 10 years, and then finally had the confidence and savings to start my own small artisan unit. I worked very hard to grow that unit for 5 years, and then I handed that over to my younger brother.”
“I found out about Ayaz Handicrafts and joined them 5 years ago. After so many years of working as a craftsman, I am now a supervisor, training and monitoring other artisans. I take care of raw material purchases and manage production for the group. Sometimes I do handwork as well but there is so much else to do that I usually don’t have time. After years of working for someone else, I prefer to now be a supervisor. I also feel secure working for Ayaz. He takes very good care of all of us and even helps me out with personal loans if I need it to support my family.
I am married with 5 children: 2 sons and 3 daughters. The three eldest are all in school and 2 of them are too young yet to start school. I am proud to have a secure job that will allow me to send all of my children- sons and daughters- to school until the 12th standard. After that, I hope that they will go on with their education and to be able to do whatever they want in life.”
Please see our entire horn and bone collection here.