ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Scissors from Meerut, Locks from Aligarh: Locality and identity in north Indian artisan production, 1870-1955


Lanzillo Amanda - Brunel University, Politics and History, London, United Kingdom


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


This paper analyzes the role of locality in north Indian artisan industries in the colonial era. Drawing on vernacular advertisements and local histories, primarily in Urdu, the paper examines the development and persistence of popular associations between local, urban identities and specific forms of artisanal production. I focus especially on the production of metal goods in mid-sized urban centers of the United Provinces. These include scissor-making in Meerut, lock production in Aligarh, knife-smithing in Rampur, and steel trunk production in Allahabad.I argue that although many of these trades evolved to meet colonial economic pressures, artisans and kārkhānadārs engaged with extra-colonial—and sometimes even anti-colonial—narratives of locality to imagine a place for themselves and their work in an Indian past as well as in a future economy. The paper highlights the often overlooked role of localized narratives of the past in the development of industrial identities.Concluding with an analysis of the immediate post-partition period, the paper asks how trades that were often carried out by north Indian Muslim artisans—including Meeruti scissors and Aligarhi locks—survived the economic and personal upheaval of partition. I note both the redevelopment of these trades among artisans who migrated to Pakistan, and the persistence of localized trades in north India, including the development of new sites of industrial ownership.