People@Work

Crafting policies for traditional communities

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on December 05, 2018 Published on December 05, 2018

Should there be a wage guideline for skilled craftspeople? Or, should market forces prevail?

Pabi ben is a legend in Gujarat. This talented craftswoman from the Rabari community, a nomadic group from Kutch known for its exquisite embroidery using mirrors, has not let lack of education come in the way of her entrepreneurial ambitions. She now has her own website — pabiben.com — and supplies bags and clutches in the unique style she has improvised using ribbons, to well-known labels as well as online stores like iTokri, Tjori, and organisations like Craftroots. Then there is Dayaben from the Dohat community in Kutch whose exquisite Soof embroidery sarees have won her huge appreciation. She commands a premium price for every one of her lovely creations that take months to make. She is a frequent exhibitor at Dastkaari Haat Samiti’s bazaars.

Or take the two Khatri families in Nirona village of Kutch, whose Rogan art wall hangings now adorn global walls — carried forth as gifts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But Pabi ben, Daya ben and the Khatris are still the minority, who have upscaled their work. Most craftspeople in the country are engaged in making what Anar Patel calls bread and butter products that hardly ensure a decent livelihood. Anar Patel runs Craftroots, an organisation that sources from over 25,000 artisans across the country and is trying to revive and popularise crafts so that their creators earn a decent living.

She also runs Gramshree, an organisation founded by her mother, Anandiben Patel, former Gujarat chief minister, to empower women to earn their livelihood. A mover and shaker when it comes to the rich crafts scene in Gujarat, Anar Patel is now researching whether a policy and some guidelines can be arrived at on the right wages for craftspeople, who are mostly self-employed.

However, now that there are many entrepreneurial set-ups that depend on women who embroider from home, or master weavers who employ several weavers, Patel feels guidelines are needed. “I have been studying international norms to figure out what is fair wage for craftspeople and what is exploitation,” she says.

As she points out, the blue-collar wages shouldn’t apply to craftspeople who are skilled. Take Rabari women who have a tradition of embroidering exquisite ghagras and veils at home — mostly for their own trousseau, but now more and more for professional earnings. Could a rate of ₹25 per hour or more be fixed? “A guideline is badly needed,” she says. What about the international rates? “There are wage calculators for craftspeople internationally, but our crafts do not fit in any of those lists,” she says.

Patel’s line of questioning is interesting, especially at a time when handmade is all the vogue and its value is rising.

‘Instil confidence in them’

Talk to Jaya Jaitley, who has been working tirelessly to empower craftspersons through her Dastkari Haat Samiti, and she has a different point of view. “Wage structures are okay, when there is an employer,” she says, pointing out how most craftspersons are self-employed and eke their living by selling their creations.

Rather than fixing a wage structure, they have to be taught the confidence to charge the true value of their products. “The market is their employer,” she says. Give them access to market, access to design possibilities and access to feedback and also instil self-confidence so as not to allow customers to hammer down their prices, she says.

She illustrates, saying at her two-week Dastkaari mela in Delhi where 200 artisans displayed their creations, total sales touched ₹6.5 crore. The craftspeople paid for their own fare while the Dastkaari Haat Samiti did the décor and publicity.

She also recalls how a Patachitra artist painted some lovely cows on fibre glass and it was put up on Instagram and got huge traction. The artist made ₹75,000 in a month as orders poured in. A decade ago, he could barely earn ₹5,000 a month.

Anar Patel, whose Craftroots organises similar bazaars in Ahmedabad, Surat and Baroda, agrees it’s the marketing and feedback that the artisans need. A lot of that is happening.

However, there is a huge gap. Globally, the crafts sector is a $35-billion market place and India’s share is just 1.2 per cent, she says. Yet, the largest community of craftspeople is in India. So multiple models are needed to boost these communities.

Encouraging craftspeople to turn entrepreneurs, emulating the likes of Pabiben, is one way. The other way is if more design students take up entrepreneurship and increase sourcing from craftspeople. “We are encouraging our interns to take up entrepreneurship in this sector,” she says. Every year, Craftroots gets 200 applications for internships, of which they take 25 people. Now they have begun to help connect entrepreneurs with bodies that provide loans. Start-ups like Chatur Chidiya have come up riding on the exquisite craftsmanship of Gujarati artisans, she says.

Both Jaitley and Anarben are worried that several traditional skills and crafts could die, especially in ordinary items that most users fail to recognise as crafts. Jaitley cites the palm leaf baskets for prasad at the Puri Jagannath temple. Thousands of devotees take these baskets every day, without realising the skill involved in making them. “The temple has been supporting the livelihood of those making these baskets. What if they switch to plastic basket?” worries Jaitley.

Anar Patel is now drawing up a blueprint to set up a crafts university. A lot is happening certainly in the crafts sector, but much more needs to be done to give the skills of our artisans their due respect.

Published on December 05, 2018
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