In the weekly market at Roshni village, in Madhya Pradesh’s Khandwa district, silver is the ultimate status symbol. The makeshift stalls are crowded with jewellery made of the precious metal, spread out on blankets on the ground, and measured on weighing scales.
The women who arrive for their weekly rations, on foot or by bullock carts, are decked in silver—on their wrists, ankles, around their waists, in their hair, nose and ears, the white metal shines.
Unlike other parts of India, gold is not the metal of choice in Khandwa. Here, silver plays more than an ornamental role. It is the medium of business transactions, long-term investment, and aspiration. Women start accumulating silver young and are given more through marriage.
Traditional designs, like this pair of woven silver cuffs, are preferred. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Part of Madhya Pradesh’s tribal belt, Khandwa is home to the land-owning Gond tribe, as well as the poorer but more numerous Korkus and Bhils, who farm and work as hired labourers. All three communities share an uncommon love of silver.
India is the world’s largest importer of silver, though prices have risen steadily over the past five years, from approximately Rs 25,000 per kg in early 2008 to approximately Rs 55,000 now. This hasn’t stopped women in Roshni from buying the precious metal, however.
In the Roshni market, female landowners of the Gond tribe sit in clusters together, best feet forward, encircled in hefty anklets of silver. The richer women are easy to spot, their tastes in jewellery align with the principle “more is more”: the chunkier and more elaborate the better. After the harvest, proceeds from the crops sold are used to buy silver ornaments in the more popular traditional designs.
But even women with no disposable income window-shop, pick up bangles and hoops, and fawn over trinkets they can’t afford.
The purchase of a piece of jewellery is a family decision and groups of relatives huddle around the silver sellers, sifting through their wares. These sellers often also act as impromptu moneylenders, allowing women to take away pieces and pay later in small instalments, the details of which they record in fat ledgers known as bahikhattas. Every Monday, when all the traders are there, the women go to pay the weekly instalments towards their loans.
Photographs by Priyanka Parashar/Mint.
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