Catalysing craft

Catalysing craft

Mahatma Gandhi’s powerful call of swadeshi and swaraj to his fellow Indians not only created the radical shift that led to the crumbling of imperialism in India, but the call was also equally a beacon to spinners and weavers, the makers by hand, spread across rural India. His vision for a self-reliant, free India closely linked to its resurgent village industries and its village roots laid the foundation stone of women leadership and women empowerment in the craft movement. In parallel, in Bengal, the visionary Nobel Prize winner Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore initiated a search into the indigenous roots of culture, setting the bedrock, inspiring others to follow.

Over the almost seven decades since India’s independence, many women contributed to change, walking the long road to try to convert the vision of a revitalised crafts and handloom sector into reality. While it is hard to single out names, as their histories are largely unrecorded, the aim of this short essay is limited. It is, first, to briefly examine and identify those women who led the way, shaping the journey, creating invigorating patterns of impact and influence. Whether working pan-India or in localised spaces, these authors of development created and empowered crafts1 and craftspeople.

The second aim is to signpost the changing mandates that led to directional change. These were models of development which, whilst rooted in a similar ethos, metamorphosed and adapted to fit the rapidly evolving social, cultural, political and economic landscape in which crafts and craftspeople were situated.

A fitting starting point of the journey is Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, whose pioneering work in the decades after Independence rejuvenated and vitalised crafts and craftspeople across India. She was appointed the Chairperson of the ALL India Handicrafts Board (AIHB) in 1952 and served till 1967. The situation she faced on the ground is hard to imagine today. With a nascent polity, an uncharted territory, crafts and craftspeople displaced and unsettled in the turmoil of Independence and the partition of the country, it was an enormous mission that the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru entrusted her.

This was a challenging task for there was no previous experience on which to build the work. It meant the creation of a new economic order for a newly independent country which would nurture and support the existing structure and skills. (Dhamija, 2007)

The task of formulating policy, the setting up of institutions, and the designing of a framework for crafts to flourish and develop in, was the vast undertaking faced. Her holistic view of the sector wherein ‘She saw crafts not in isolation, but as part of the rich fabric of our life involving all the creative expressions of a people’ (ibid.: 69) was the grounding of the vision. The Ramon Magsaysay Award Citation which she received in 1996 stated:

Among the architects of modern India few have been so broadly effective as Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay … in an era when great traditional crafts and artistry often are submerged by mass production of standardised products, Kamaladevi has led in mobilising for new generations these ancient skills.

The creation of support systems and frameworks such as the Regional Design Centres, the infrastructure she put into place and the organisations she seeded included the Indian Cooperative Union (1CU) which she founded in 1948, providing tools, loans and directions in a new way of living. The ICU managed the then iconic handicrafts and handloom store— the Central Cottage Industries Emporium (CCIE), where:

Teji Vir Singh and Mrs Prem Bery with their experience of Marketing of Refugee Handicrafts and with the guidance of Kitty Shiva Rao and Mrs B.K. Nehru and the support of dynamic and talented Sina Kaul were responsible for building it up . . the best of handicrafts, with its buyers such as Gulshan Nanda, Nakara sisters and many others travelling the length and breadth of the country, searching for crafts and craftsmen…. (Dhamija, 2007)

The furthering of the craft movement, the process of revival and women empowerment, continued through her lifetime. She brought new ways of looking at the crafts, challenged hierarchies and reached out to craftspeople. Herself a prolific writer and spokesperson, she initiated research and documentation on the crafts and its practitioners. Her interest and her ability to galvanise others led to the seeding of organisations across the continuum of art, culture and heritage. In the field of craft, she served as the Vice President of the World Crafts Council, an endeavour that she initiated in 1964. The backing and encouragement she provided to many furthered the cause—from Rukmini Devi Arundale whose efforts in the area of natural dyes and weaving at Kalakshetra have continued to be carried forward, to the setting up of the Crafts Council of India (CCI), which now has chapters across several states and is largely women-led and women-run. The Paramparik Karigar Trust was established in Mumbai in 1996, when master craftspeople from across India met with her and Roshan Kalapesi to create the first registered body of craftspeople responsible for their own future. ‘It is in this context that Paramparik Karigar is so important. Its active core “with full decision-making rights” is the now around 1,000-strong crafts community.’ These were just some of Kamaladevi’s many activities and achievements in shaping, empowering and revival.

In parallel, in the 1950s, Pupul Jayakar was appointed the Chairperson of the All India Handloom Board by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with a short break in-between. Her role in influencing culture and craft policy continued under the prime ministership of both Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

The building of the Weavers’ Service Centres, the marketing frameworks and institutions supportive of the sector, the formation of the Handloom and Handicraft Export Promotion Corporation (HHEC), where she was the Chairperson from 1968 to 1977, and other initiatives were a response to the shifting economic and social situation, a directional change that recognised the need for repositioning Indian handmade products for the world. The Sona shop in New York, the emphasis on design and design education, the introduction of internationally known designers, including Pierre Cardin to Indian culture, crafts and textiles, the Festivals of India, all worked towards a global repositioning of Indian crafts and textiles as valued, timeless, cultural artifacts.

Pupul Jayakar initiated the idea of a national school of design in 1955, when she met Charles Eames in the United States. Subsequently, Eames was invited by the government to outline a proposal.

He came to explore the actuality of India before preparing his blueprint. He and his wife Ray travelled through India … observing the landscape, the people … the rural capacity for attention, their skills and the intensity of their minds. He prepared out of this raw material his blueprint, an integral view of the Indian scene … his report was placed before Manubhai Shah, the then Minister of Commerce and Industry; … also present, was Gautam Sarabhai…. The Minister was confused but trusted Sarabhai’s acute business sense and was aware of my down-to-earth approach to development. Finally, the report was accepted and the National Institute of Design (NID) came into being and was built in Ahmedabad…. Qayakar, 1995

Similarly, the creation of national-level institutes of fashion and accessory design was mooted and the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) came into being in 1986. There are now 15 NIFTs located at different centres across India. These institutions, and the many others they spawned, changed forever the design landscape in India. The many design graduates and the increasing emphasis on design in the country are a product of this foresight.

The establishment of INTACH was similar:

While in England I had met the senior representatives of the National Trust in London and discussed the possibilities of establishing an all-India society concerned with heritage and its preservation … there was no major all-India body to concern itsel with identifying, listing and conserving manmade and nan heritage. Indira was enthused with the suggestion. In spit of all manner of obstacles, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) was registered in early 1984 with Indira Gandhi as its patron, Rajiv, its first Chairman. (Jayakar, 1995)

Her interests in rural arts and crafts, her ability to see potential and translate it into action, sparked change in many areas of craft. One such incident was recounted by L.K. Jha:

… another field of high achievement … is the popularisation of Madhubani paintings … when in the mid-’60s, during the famine which threatened Bihar, she went there to discover ways in which new incomes could be generated for those whose crops had failed, with the result that they neither had the food which they used to grow for themselves nor the income to buy it from others. The problem was that since Madhubani paintings were done on walls, there was no way they could be transported or sold…. Pupul Jayakar was the first person to persuade them to do their paintings on paper…. Soon, their quality caught the fancy of those with a discerning eye…. Madhubani paintings are in many museums as well as homes of the art lovers all over the world—thanks more to Pupul Jayakar than to anyone else. (Chandra et al., 1986)

In a period before ethnic became chic, Pupul Jayakar connected the crafts to their cultural underpinnings. As a Chairman of CCIE, she initiated policies that widened their reach. As a Chairperson of HHEC, she introduced Indian crafts to the global market. It was, however, as a Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Festivals of India, held in Britain, USA, Japan and France that her creative and organisational activities were brought to the fore. The Festivals were a major series of events, a unique cooperative effort between the Government of India and the host country, designed to bring to the attention of the world the greater understanding of the complex life and ‘the vibrant manifestations of Indian culture ‘ (Doshi, 1982: 4). In the wide-ranging presentations on art, culture, performance, scientific achievements included ‘Vasna’, a portrait of a contemporary village, and The Living Arts Exhibition with demonstrations of crafts skills. Several years in the making, the Master Weavers Exhibition, a part of the Festival, ‘projected the great contemporary textile arts of the country and focused on the continuity of tradition’ (Jayakar, 1982: 5) with Martand Singh as conceptualiser, exhibition director and curator. The exhibition – Aditi—inspired by the rural and ritual arts, with Rajeev Sethi as the Project Director and Curator—centred on the growing-up of the child, from womb to adulthood.

While received with glowing tributes, … and as Mrs (Indira) Gandhi satd it had “succeeded not serve just as a show window” for India but had actively created interest in India’ (Doshi, 1982: 6). When this shift in priorities and strategies led to trenchant disapproval with traditionalists Mrs Jayakar countered these by saying, ‘There may be much criticism today but I am confident that the events as they unfold will bring in the bouquets. We hope these festivals will reveal the great strengths of a young nation with an ancient culture and heritage’ (Singh, 1986).

The early foundational figures had worked in synch with a farsighted political class and bureaucracy, who backed their initiatives. From Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, there was the recognition that the arts and crafts, the second largest sector of employment in India after agriculture, were not only an invaluable cultural asset but, equally, an economic force.

From the late 1980s onwards, government institutions became less responsive to the needs of craftspeople. Political will now shifted gear, with prioritisation and an almost exclusive focus on the urban, the industrial and digital; crafts and craftspeople were now relegated to the backwaters. Their neglect reflected in the phrase used by politicians and policy-makers to describe the sector as a ‘sunset industry’, and viewed through the lens of sops and subsidy, rather than as a muscular economic activity contributing to GDP. This mindset made the task of those who worked in this sector much harder.

The major question that arose was: How to equip and empower craftspeople for the changing times? While there was a burgeoning middle-class market that demanded goods that into their lifestyle, there was a growing schism between rural and urban India. The opening up of the economy, globalisation, loss of traditional markets, increased competition from mass-marketers and declining incomes were just some of the many challenges being faced. Craftspeople too were looking for change, being aware that economic women empowerment, development and other transformation occurring in modern India were not trickling down to them Pnorittes and strategies were needed to change o suit this rapidly altering scenario It was in this context that a new generanon of activists matured; their direction, both a response and a reaction to the shifts m circumstances confronting craftspeople. Mandated to empower and improve the economic and social status of craftspeople pan-India and regional non-governmental organisations (NGOs) heralded a new wave of women from dissimilar backgrounds who drawn to the sector, had a pulse for its needs and changing priorities! Working to create sustainable economic models and, equally significantly, going beyond economics to fulfil social development agendas, these NGOs focused on a wide range of actions. Measures included seeking sustainable employment, collectivisation, generating income, economic self-sufficiency and social equity—all human development aspirations.

To review the impressive line-up could risk producing a mere laundry list of achievers, but it needs to be done. Each name could be accompanied by a roll call of achievements although, given the exigencies of space, the mention here is pithy and brief.

One such organisation, among others with a wide mandate, is SEWA in Ahmedabad—registered in 1972—with its trade union of self-employed poor women workers, led by Elaben Bhatt, Renana Jhabvala and Mirai Chatterjee. The struggles it undertook strengthened women to organise for social change, making it equally ‘both an organisation and a movement’.8 Its emphasis on creating self-reliance and employment included those engaged in craft activity and was led by Reema Nanavati and Lalitha Krishnaswami.

In 1972, Bunker Roy set up the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC), popularly known as the ‘Barefoot College’, in Tillonia, Rajasthan. He was joined in 1974 by his wife, Aruna Roy—who now heads the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana—both working to improve the lives of the rural poor by addressing basic needs for water, electricity, housing, health and education. The Hatheli Sansthan wing works with artisans across Rajasthan, and Saharanpur in UP.

Non-governmental organisations interknitted the concerns of the sector, creating self-sufficiencies, improving the economic status of craftspeople and promoting the survival of traditional craftsmanship. They developed a momentum as well as foci of their own—maturing and transforming along the way to resolve the problems of their time. Through successful experimentation, crafts were introduced to urban India, demonstrating that skills were alive and the products of craftsmanship in demand for a new, rapidly evolving middle class.

Set up in 1981, Dastkar was headed by Laila Tyabii with its groundbreaking exhibitions, where craftspeople could interact with their customers, learning new skills and developing markets Their programmes provided support, whether in design or in accessing credit and raw material, from training in entrepreneurship to providing technical assistance. With year-on-year bazaars held across India, craftspeople developed direct links to new markets, leading to improved incomes, social equity and women empowerment.

These concerns were echoed at Dastkari Haat Samiti, established in 1985 and chaired by Jaya Jaitley, which worked closely with craftspeople from across India, expanding their markets, developing cutting-edge design, and giving the strength and support required in each area. Jaitley’s innovative and breakout idea of a permanent craft bazaar, the Dilli Haat, was conceptualised, blue-printed and pushed through with the government with great perseverance by her. This landmark achievement has been hugely successful and duplicated across India and, indeed, in other countries. Working closely with the concerns of the sector at large, NGOs adapted programmes to needs, reinforcing efforts while constantly pushing the boundaries to growth, women empowerment and change. Weaving together a network of mutual interests and collaborations, they attempted to make an impact and bring change for those whom they were serving. From Anita Reddy working with the Kalamkari craftspeople in Sri Kalahasti (Dwarka, Delhi); Sally Holkar’s work with the weavers in Maheshwar (Women’s Weavers); Gita Ram and Neelam Chibber’s developmental and marketing initiatives with natural fibre craftspeople in South India (Industree Foundation); Uzramma’s path-breaking work with cotton handloom and Malkha weavers in Andhra (Dastakar Andhra and Malkha Marketing Trust); Mukti Dutta in Panchchuli and Rashmi Bharathi in Uttarakhand (Avni); the work of the Craft Revival Trust in creating the largest online encyclopaedia on the arts, crafts and textiles, and its practitioners; Ujwala Jodha of Dastkar, Ranthambore, are only some of the many examples that abound in the sector.

Working to preserve traditions, creating employment while ensuring income and livelihoods for its members, Chandraben Shroff at Shrujan, Meera Goradia at Khamir, Neena Raaste at KMVS, and Judy Prater at Kala Raksha, work in Kutch. While in West Bengal, the late Dr Phulrenu Guha of Karma Kutir worked to rehabilitate refugees from erstwhile Bangladesh, providing training in skills and reviving handicrafts; Ruby Pal Choudhuri at the Crafts Council; Sarba Shanti Ayog—SASHA—set up by the late Subhashini Kohli and its stewardship by Roopa Mehta, working now with more than a hundred crafts groups. Ananya Bhattacharya at Banglanatak.com; Sumita at Rangasutra; Adithi, established by the late Vijii Srinivasan, operate across Bihar and Jharkhand. The MRMRM Cultural Foundation, set up by Visalakshi Ramaswamy in Chettinad; the late Lalitha Prasad of Crafts Council of Andhra; SEWA Lucknow formed with the agenda of doing away with the middleman under the able guidance of Runa Banerjee, providing viable and sustainable livelihood opportunities to chikan embroiderers—the list goes on.

Diverse, spread out, kaleidoscopic in character, responding to the beat of development and opportunity, craftspeople9 across clusters quickened to change. Their response echoed across the country. From the first women craftspeople to step out of the confines of home, whether it was women chikan embroiderers from Lucknow, Ahir and Rabari women from Kutch, or Banjaras from Sandur, these remarkable pioneers broke the mould, setting examples for others to follow. Madhubani artists from Mithila, Gond women from Jharkhand, women weavers from the North-east took the step, their standing-up to be counted having a multiplier effect on others in their community. Their personal growth was linked to social change and economic progress. These craftswomen seized the opportunity to enter the economic sphere, asserted their rights, and developed a voice within the social and contractual sphere of their lives. In interviews, their reactions covered a range f affirmative responses from ‘ghore bosa kaaj’ (Sethi, 2012), to ‘… this is a boon to my craft’ (Jangid, 2005), their engagements and interactions creating a social and economic ripple effect on their communities.

Alongside the NGO movement was the parallel growth of commercial and entrepreneurial activity that brought to markets across India products of traditional craftsmanship. Improving livelihoods, opening up markets, introducing design adapted for the ‘new’ consumer, and, critically for the craftsperson, sustaining and increasing demand for their products. The most well-known of these remains Fablndia, founded by the charismatic John Bissel its solid foundations have been multiplied a hundredfold under the stewardship of his son, William; Anokhi, a venture of John and Faith Singh in Jaipur; Suraiya Hassan in Hyderabad, who successfully combined revival with commerce—both in ikat and with the himroo-weaving skills; Bandhej by Archana Shah in Gujarat; Sunny and Meeta in Kala Dera; and other entrepreneurs across India, who clearly demonstrated that it was possible to run successful craft-based businesses with a social agenda. These commercial interdependencies between entrepreneurs and craftspeople worked in the best interest of both, reviving techniques, empowering craftspeople, introducing and innovating with new designs, and opening fresh markets so successfully that a steady demand for crafts skills is sustained year after year.

Designers, working with the crafts, served as a bridge, mediating between craftspeople and their evolving urban markets. Shona Ray, textile designer, ‘introduced craft into people’s interiors’; Prabhaben Shah and Malti Jhaveri, sisters, who worked with hand-block prints in the 1950s and 1960s; lola Basu, with her ‘understanding of product design as a process and marketing, well before others’; Sina Kaul and Ratna Fabri, whose design careers started at CCIE; Bina Das, who worked with the potters in West Bengal.12 This connection and interaction has strengthened and multiplied four-fold over the decades, with designers working with craftspeople across the country and in varied traditions.

In museums, education, and writings on crafts and their cultural contexts, women continued to play a significant part. The Calico Museum of Textiles, set up in 1949 in Ahmedabad, is among the foremost textile museums in the world. It was inspired by Dr Ananda Coomaraswamy, and founded in 1949 by Gautam Sarabhai and his sister, Gira Sarabhai. Guided over the last several decades by Gira Sarbhai, its exceptional collection educates the curious and the scholar, besides being an invaluable reference source for practitioners. Its publication programme, encompassing both the historical, scientific and technical aspects of craftsmanship, has pushed the boundaries of scholarship in the subject.

Located in Paris, the Association for the Study and Documentation of Asian Textiles, established in 1979, was based around the textile collection of Krishna Reboud, its founder. It’ .is a centre which was created to foster the study and research in Asian textile’ (Introduction. Marg, June 1987).

Praful Shah and Shilpa Shah’s Tapi Collection of Textiles in Surat that grew from ‘Shilpa’s eager-eyed forays into our small town bazaars’ (Barnes et al., 2002: 8), began as a resource centre for design to become ‘what must be one of the finest private textile collections in India today’ (ibid.: Introduction). This formidable collection comprises textiles covering a wide range of techniques, materials and patterning, dating from the 14th century onwards. The Tapi Collection also supports an ambitious research and publication programme.

Dakshina Chitra, the museum of living traditions, set enroute from Chennai to Mammallapuram, was founded by Deborah Thiagarajan in 1996. It promotes, revives and preserves the arts, crafts and traditions of South India. This living heritage centre has given great impetus to crafts and craftspeople. Its activities include demonstrations of craftsmanship, seminars, workshops and other participatory activities for its many visitors, creating an awareness of everyday culture and the living practices of arts and crafts.

The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing in Jaipur, an initiative of Rachel Bracken-Singh and her husband, Pritam Singh, is dedicated to the collection, preservation and interpretation of block-printed cloth, strengthening the appreciation for this living heritage.

Led by Dr Stella Kramhsch,  the prolific writings of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay on crafts influenced many who came after her. Pupul Jayakar’s contributions to Marg, Journal of Indian Textile History, and to other publications, and Dr Lotika Varadarajan’s scholarship and research on traditional knowledge systems, led to her publications in the fields of textiles, tribal cultures and maritime ventures. Jasleen Dhamija, who worked with the AIHB in the 1950s and subsequently internationally, has travelled, researched and written extensively on textiles and costumes.

Rta Chisti’s work in the area of handloom, Janet Rizvi, and the many others, all pioneers, led the way in developing an Indian idiom in researching, documenting and publishing.

In Bengal, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s innovative and far-sighted initiatives vitalised and reformed education through the setting up of the Visva Bharati at Santiniketan.

In every nation, education is intimately associated with the life of the people. For us, modern education is relevant only to turning out clerks, lawyers, doctors, magistrates and policemen…. This education has not reached the farmer, the oil grinder, nor the potter. No other educated society has been struck with such disaster…. If ever a truly Indian university is established it must, from the very beginning, implement India’s own knowledge of economics, agriculture, health, medicine and of all other everyday science from the surrounding villages. Then alone can the school or university become the centre of the country’s way of living. This school must practise agriculture, dairying and weaving using the best modern methods…. I have proposed to call this school Visva Bharati. (Das Gupta, 1983)

In 1919, Kala Bhawana, as part of Visva Bharati, was established in Santiniketan. Under the guidance of Tagore’s daughter-in-law, Pratima Devi, the French artist, Madame Andree Karpelees, and Mrs Sukumar Devi (Subramanya, 1982), crafts were introduced into the curriculum, resulting in the revitalisation of various traditional crafts.

In the area of educational reform and change, an extremely significant transformation occurred in October 2005. Judy Prater founded the first institution of design for traditional artisans—Kala Raksha Vidyalaya (KRV) in Kutch. Laila Tyabji expressed, very eloquently, what many felt:

Twenty years ago, a Mithila craftswoman, Shiva Kashyap, bewailed that ‘We may be wage earners but we are still walking on someone else’s feet. Because we lack the tools of education and language we are still dependent.’ It is a cry that many otherwise skilled traditional craftspeople have echoed. So Kala Raksha Vidyalaya is truly an answer to a dream … of hundreds of craftspeople.

Hopefully, it will be a module for many other similar local design schools in craft pockets all over the country.

Developing learning material, a modular curriculum that allows for flexibility and a pedagogy focused on acquiring knowledge and skills that are relevant to craftspeople, the KRV is now in its seventh successful year. Sally Holkar’s small, yet significant start of the Handloom Weaving School in Maheshwar teaches sustainable dyeing practices, weaving techniques, use of alternate yarns, design, and has a curriculum that is expected to grow and mature with its students.

The change-makers were not only the women who were directly working in the sector with craftspeople, but also additionally those who shaped and influenced our professional values. These women in public life were politicians, artists, bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, educationists and others, exuding authority, dressed in traditional attire, leading modern lives. The focus of attention in the 1980s was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. At meetings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government or with other world leaders, whether in India or abroad, Mrs Gandhi made a powerful statement. Images relayed across India on cinema newsreels, Doordarshan and in the press, were of an Indian woman holding her own—dressed in handloom, conveying authority. It was a pan-Indian look, both distinct and original, and power dressing at its best.

She chose her clothes to reflect the traditions of the different regions of the country Thus she not only made a fashion statement but also gave an impetus to the development of the khadi and handloom sectors in India. (Bhagat, 2005)

It is a powerful example continued by her daughter-in-law, the President of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, and other political leaders. The highly influential world of cinema also made its contribution with the diva Rekha, magnificently draped in sumptuous, glamorous Kanjeevaram silks and traditional handcrafted jewellery. Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen, Vidya Balan, the mega-stars of south Indian cinema and others were seen, on screen and off, in handloom cottons and silks, in settings that showed the best of Indian crafts.

A view of the sector, of its women empowerment, development and change would be unsatisfactory, deficient and incomplete without paying tribute to the many who worked and continue to do so in the sector. The fundamental debt owed to foundational figures like the late L.C. Jain—Gandhian, economist, social activist and builder of the framework for handicrafts—and John Bissel, cannot be forgotten. The immense contribution of Ashoke Chatterjee (former Executive Director, NID; former President, Crafts Council of India); Martand Singh (Founder Member, INTACH; author; textile revivalist); Rajeev Sethi (Founder Chairman, Asian Heritage Foundation); Brij Bhasin (Chairperson, Barsana); Bunker Roy and others, illumined the path.

At the policy level, meetings and committees in the last decade have done little to resolve the issues of the sector. Its fractured polity divided into the KVIC, handlooms and handicrafts. The craftspeople themselves were dealt with by innumerable Ministries, the threads of interventions and schemes not interlocking to produce on-the-ground deliverables. Yet, under the stewardship of Dr Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission, thought and debate, along with concrete action, have since been initiated to bring about a much-needed relook at the sector as a whole.

While much has been realised since Independence, not enough has been done to achieve the watermark level for real women empowerment, inclusion, and economic and social equity. As Ashoke Chatterjee vividly puts it:

We all took for granted that this Indian advantage needed no special attention for its sustenance—all part of the landscape like the Himalayas and the Ganga…

Issues of the paradox of value continue to confront craftspeople-while the products of craftsmanship are highly valued craftspeople, themselves the holders of knowledge, are relegated to obscurity and anonymity. Additionally, while much has been done, there are still large numbers who remain out of the ambit of change and development.16 Access to markets, credit schemes and programmes, and social security remains elusive for many.

The urgent need to codify the traditional knowledge systems of the crafts and, furthermore, to research and contextualise the products of craftsmanship is still in its nascent stage. The study of the intersection of craft techniques and technology is an imperative for us to build on for the future. Additionally, the task to bring craftspeople on equal footing into the educational system as teachers and trainers, continues to defy us. The issue of intellectual property and the protection of community knowledge looms large. The faking and copying of traditional crafts products remains rife. There is a need, in addition, to revisit the ethics of engagement with craftspeople, bringing in the larger issues of rights (Chiba and Sethi, 2012). The questions of certification of skills, the need to collectivise to build strength, are also on the agenda. Development initiatives need to reach out to larger numbers, to deliver to those who need it most; for all this to be achieved, continuous, sustained and determined efforts by many more is needed.

Catalysing craft
Rate this post

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.