India

The village losing its livelihood after Kerala temple tragedy

A closed fireworks shop Image copyright Nidhin AS
Image caption This would usually be a bustling and busy time in the village, but everything is shut

The impact of the recent explosion and fire at a Hindu temple in the south Indian state of Kerala that killed more than 100 people is being felt as far as 80km (50 miles) away in Nanniyode village, writes BBC Hindi's Divya Arya.

Nanniyode is a manufacturing hub for fireworks.

More than half of the 500 families in the village either own or work in the 100 fireworks manufacturing units situated there.

This would usually be a bustling and busy time in the village. Given that it is the "season of festivals", the demand for fireworks in Kerala this time of the year is traditionally high.

But when we visit Nanniyode, there is nothing there but an uneasy quiet - all the factories are shut.

Work has come to a standstill since Sunday's temple tragedy, and there is a palpable sense of fear.

"Whenever there is any kind of mishap related to fireworks in the state, the police rush to our village, raid workshops and arrest people," Nand Kumar, a factory owner tells the BBC.

Interesting history

Many in the village are worried.

Ramachandran who uses only one name, works at Mr Kumar's factory. "Our work is seasonal, we have to earn enough to last the whole year, but we are now unemployed during this season of festivals," he says, pointing to a closed manufacturing unit.

Nanniyode has an interesting history of fireworks production.

The villagers took to manufacturing them in the 1970s after a few local men received training in the art.

Image copyright Nidhin AS
Image caption Mr Kumar's grandfather was one of those who first introduced the art of manufacturing fireworks to the village

Mr Kumar's grandfather was one of them.

The profession then was particularly lucrative, because temples, who have a long history of using fireworks to mark festivals, had just begun "competing" with one another to see who could put on a more impressive display.

However, Mr Kumar says that it was the "love of the craft" and not business that had attracted his grandfather to the profession.

Pleasing the gods

Fireworks also play an important role in the local beliefs and folklore.

While some believe that gods "like fireworks as a form of worship", others believe that the smoke they generate is "good for respiratory ailments and purifies the environment".

But not all the fireworks manufacturing hubs in Nanniyode are legal - only 18 of the 100 manufacturing units in the village have the requisite government licenses.

These specify guidelines such as chemical usage and the distance units should maintain from residential areas.

Despite the dangers, manufacturing fireworks has been the sole source of income for many here.

Baby E, like many women in Nanniyode, prepares the chemical mix that is used in the fireworks.

It is not considered skilled work and is, therefore, mostly done by the village women.

Image copyright Nidhin AS
Image caption Making the chemical mix for fireworks is considered women's work
Image copyright Nidhin AS
Image caption Villagers are worried about the loss of livelihood

"My husband fell sick after our wedding, this was the only work I knew," she says.

"It has helped me raise my children, marry them off and allowed me to build this small house."

But Baby E's children do not work in a fireworks unit, and work as daily wage labourers instead.

She is glad, because she believes it is a dangerous job, with a constant risk to life and threat of police action.

Mr Kumar also doesn't want his children to follow in his footsteps, though his reasons are different.

"I have two daughters, and here women do not run such risky businesses. But if I find a conscientious boy I'd be happy to impart my ancestral knowledge to him."

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