Handmade in India

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The government has re-launched the manufacturing policy of “Make in India” and also “Welcome to India from China” for companies looking to relocate. But why is our policy & action so weak when it comes to “Handmade in India” ? In fact, this was not even a slogan, until this morning. GI, aka Geographical Indications number about 78 in non-textile/fabric handicraft – i would recon this is about 10% of our unique native craft forms ( we have about 780 documented clusters) – which implies the rest are not documented/not protected/not supported sufficiently. The handicraft sector is the second highest employment generator after agriculture- officially 80 lakh, but the actual numbers are estimated to be many times more ( some estimate it to be as high as 5 crore Indians ) .In spite of this, it does not even have a ministry of it’s own – it is a poor subset in the Ministry of Textiles.

Indian handicrafts is about 13,000 CR. which makes up about 6% of the Indian gifting market. In a covid scenario, let’s keep the other 50% aside as exports are not really going to happen in the near future.

This 13,000-15,000 crore industry employs officially ( as per the Ministry of Textiles, which strangely oversees this vertical)  about 80 lakh artisans pan India. I believe the market itself is a little bigger if one were to look at the unrecognised art forms and if one were to add the livelihoods at the lower skill levels ( basket weavers, broom makers, potters etc )  – Pan-India would be about 5 crore individuals. In most native art forms, entire families get involved in the making process, so the actual numbers could be even more.

Most of the artisans belong to the marginalised communities of India. Helping this sector will have a direct impact on reduction of poverty levels in our villages and definitely reduce Urban Migration from these clusters. Why is there still no concerted effort or focus ?

What factors contribute to this scenario ?

  • Most modern households and lifestyles exclude our native art
  • Most modern architects and interior designers exclude native art completely in going for the sleek western look which goes well with the glass & steel buildings they build.
  • Our educational curriculum though excellent overall in building analytical skills( CBSE, ICSE & State boards ) do not have art/craft in the curriculum. And even if electives are prescribed by the board in the senior grades – the schools do not offer them for lack of teachers or lack of parental demand. Taking a leaf from the Singapore system – If there is an inclusion of traditional craft/art in the curriculum which can be mapped to each state or art clusters nearest to the city or town – we can not only create opportunities for the local craftspeople to be teaching these art forms but also create a generation of patrons who will be empathetic and supportive of these art forms.
  • The consumer in India prefers imported products primarily those from China – for instance the gifting market in India ( Marriages, Birthdays, House-warmings, Official engagements, Conferences, Events etc )   is about 2,24,000 Crores and Handicrafts made in India by our rural & tribal artisans makes up a measly 6% of that. 
  • Government policy towards handicrafts has been subdued and lackadaisical at best – in fact the entire handicrafts department is a subset in the Ministry of textiles. Textiles & Handicrafts are two different industries and require wholly different/unique approaches. It does not justify the fact that Handicrafts is India’s second largest employment provider after agriculture. By allowing institutions/centres like RDTC to close naturally ( via superannuation of its employees viz. senior artisans) they are slowly vacating parts of their responsibilities. Senior employees ( who would like to remain anonymous ) feel that the amount of resources available and the wealth of knowledge will die away with the last batch of retirees in just another 5 years. Also every governmental entity centre, state have their own unique agenda and hence the action/results coagulate.
  • The number of interaction points for patrons with artisans is a minimum. Most handicraft is purchased through Govt.Handicraft showrooms. Organisations like Dastkar and Hundred Hands have helped bridge the gap. But these platforms are not sufficient for the large artisan base. 
  • Many items which are sold as Indian Handicrafts are not made in India. A routine visit to a non-government Handicraft showroom can throw up a number of brass idols, ceramic idols and many decor items which are in fact Made in China but are sold as “Indian” creations. The primary reason for this is the margins these machine made products offer the retailer are much higher than their Indian counterparts. Also the machine made finish is sleeker and more perfect versus the minor aberrations of the naturally handmade creation. One cannot blame the retailer, given the disproportionate rents & overheads they incur – they do it for survival. 
  • The other threat from Chinese imports is that they can almost kill a handicraft cluster, case in point the Firozabad glass makers.

Art & Craft historically thrived under the patronage of Kings – take Karnataka for example –  Krishna Devaraya, the Wodeyar Dynasty,Tipu Sultan were all great patrons of art and craft. In fact it’s well known that even the great Raja Ravi Varma ,became the great artist he finally was, due to the sponsorship of the Wodeyar king. The craft clusters in and around Mysore, Channapatna, Ramanagara bear testimony to this patronage. Of course the Kings vacated their responsibilities on all fronts and retired to the privy purse; and they were not replaced by the government on those fronts equally as in this case. We need a concerted effort at reclaiming our rich handicraft & art culture which incidentally is also sustainable in terms of the kind of materials/process and generate more employment for the skilled, semi-skilled artisans and build a better future for all Indians. 

The slogan is a good beginning…

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