Last Sunday, as we were walking through the market with my son, we came across a cute toy store with a wide variety of colorful toys on display. There were guns, dolls, stuffed animals, plastic Avengers, maces, swords, and a horde of other play items safe enough to spark any child’s imagination. My son wanted to buy a gun for him and a doll for his sister. Honestly, I didn’t want to give these toxic plastic toys to my kids, but my son rarely asks for anything and I didn’t want to deny his little wish.
“Do you want these or do you want to bring home some toys that I played with when I was your age?”
“I want the ones you had,” his eyes lit up.
And so we walked to the weekly market, where a potter was sitting, laying out his clay wares. Around the corner were sets of miniature kitchen utensils called locally “Koudhi Kanchi. There was chulhi (clay pan), pankhi (vegetable cutter), karei(pan), gariaa(pots), duaa and chatu (spatulas) and much more. Not too long ago, these toys were common play items in most homes in western Odisha. Along with wheeled cows and wooden horses, they were once essential parts of a festival called Puraa-Uans. But now, thanks to the craze for their colorful PVC variants, these little toys are losing their relevance and potters have almost stopped making them. My son was happy to have a Kudhi Kanchi together and some changri or small bamboo containers, to store them.
For ages, local artisans in India have been making toys from natural materials like wood, clay and fabric. Excavations in the Indus Valley have revealed several game objects like dice, mazes, and clay wheeled toys that are still in use today, although now mostly in their plasticized forms. In fact, each region of our country boasts of its unique style of toy making, showcasing the customs and culture of their land. Maybe the Kathputlis from Rajasthan telling valuable historical stories, handmade Kutchi Dhingli dolls, clay Kudhi-Kanchi from Western Odisha, wooden toys from Varanasi, Channapatna from Karnataka, Kondapalli from Andhra Pradesh, Roly-Poly and Movable Head Dolls from Thanjavur, Terracotta Dolls from Assam or Valachery from Tamil Nadu, all are made from natural materials such as wood, fabric, papier-mâché or clay. Then there are the native games like Gandjapa – traditional playing cards, Chaturanga – the precursor of failures, Chauka Bara – which finds a mention in Mahabharata, Pachisi – similar to modern Ludo, and so on. Unfortunately, our age-old traditional play items are on the verge of disappearing, thanks to the huge importation of inexpensive and attractive toys.
In 2019-2020, India’s overall imports from China were 14.1%. While the main imports included electronics, pharmaceuticals, engineering products and automotive components, there is that product for which Chinese industry enjoys a monopoly in the Indian market – toys. The recently concluded 2021 Toycathon, organized by the Ministry of Education and supported by AICTE and several other ministries, encouraged the making of toys with indigenous concepts and values to reclaim an industry which represents a huge percentage of its income. from India. Right now, India accounts for a dismal 0.015 percent of the global toy economy.
Chinese toys are very popular in India due to their variety, availability and low price. But they have repeatedly been a source of concern because of the health hazard they could pose to our children. Chinese toys are known around the world for their “toxicity”. They are reported to contain toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic. Lead can damage the nervous system, slow the growth process, impair hearing and speech, and, if absorbed at higher levels, can lead to death. In children, increased levels of cadmium can cause bone demineralization and organ damage. Arsenic can cause higher mortality in children and can interfere with pregnancy. Most Chinese toys also contain phthalates above the allowable limits, which are plasticizers used to make plastics soft. Phthalate is particularly harmful to children in the younger age group and can cause hormonal and reproductive disorders. They can also cause damage to the liver, lungs and kidneys.
But despite all their shortcomings, due to their volume and competitive prices, Chinese toys have been a favorite in the Indian market. Over 80 percent of the toys used in India are imported, the majority of which come from China. In 2009, India banned the import of Chinese toys for six months for reasons of public health and safety. In 2020, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) introduced new guidelines for importing toys for children under the age of 14. In addition, 60 percent of import duties were imposed on electronic toys. The import process now requires dual certification from BIS, one for the product and one for the factory from which it is produced. Although a direct ban on the Chinese toy trade is not possible due to WTO rules, with this ruling, its regulation certainly is.
Almost a year ago, in his Independence Day speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about promoting local products. While being “Voice for the locals” This is how India will move closer to self-sufficiency, he said. It is true that the Indian market is huge. If exploited by its people through the manufacture and sale of indigenous products, the country will experience positive economic growth. For a Bharat that is Atmanirbhar, we must produce competitive products on par with global standards. As for the toy industry, if we can meet domestic demand, our own toys would dominate the Indian markets, and who knows, might even cross a larger global market!
While the country’s economy has suffered tremendously because of Covid, reclaiming the toy industry will help create jobs. By incorporating the techniques and designs used in the making of our traditional, eco-friendly, plastic-free toys, we can prevent our native art forms from slowly dying, while also protecting the environment from contamination. Such toys will also play a central role in preserving our local culture and in familiarizing our children with our centuries-old tradition. And by committing to buy only our Swadeshi toys, we can promote our local artisans and help them thrive.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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