|A small team of artisans from Jawaja (Rajasthan) accompanied by Prof Ashoke Chatterjee (former Director, National Institute of Design and former President, Crafts Council of India) have been denied visas to attend a global symposium on craft development that opened this week in Vancouver, Canada. The reason stated by the Canadian authorities in New Delhi is the lack of “a legitimate business purpose”. The group had been invited to share three decades of development experience through an experiment that is globally acknowledged for its significance, and has had an influence well beyond the craft sector.
The Maiwa Symposium is organized in Vancouver each year by the Maiwa Foundation. Its objective is to bring together artisans and activists to understand developments in the sector that can impact future craft directions. The global recession, while slowing the growth of the market, has demonstrated the remarkable resilience of world demand for hand production. In India, the sector is the largest employment generator after agriculture. Yet most Indian artisans remain among the weakest sections of society. The context of unparalleled scale and centuries-old unbroken tradition — combined with major social, economic and political implications and opportunities – make India’s craft experience critical for understanding within the debate on sustainable livelihoods. With this objective, the Maiwa Foundation invited the Artisans Alliance of Jawaja (AAJ) to share their unique experience through presentations and training workshops at its 2009 Symposium, which opened on 19 October in Vancouver, BC.
The hamlet of Jawaja, in one of the most degraded districts of Rajasthan, was selected in 1975 by the late Prof Ravi J Matthai (founder Director of IIMA) for a path-breaking experiment in self-reliance. After lifting IIMA to global prominence, Ravi Matthai stepped down to test whether his management experience could be relevant to those most affected by poverty. Matthai selected Jawaja and its impoverished artisan community. Both had been identified as lacking development opportunity. Under Matthai’s leadership, his ‘Rural University’ experiment came to be respected as one of the most innovative approaches to self-reliance and empowerment. Its prime objective was to raise the capacity of the poor to network with markets and institutions outside the oppressive control of local power structures, and to achieve this with self-reliance. The Artisans Alliance of Jawaja (AAJ) over three decades has been recognized as a remarkable development effort, linking traditional craft skills with contemporary opportunities and demonstrating the ability of the poorest to work for change. Jawaja has been a seed influence for some of India’s finest civil society institutions and activists. Prof Ashoke Chatterjee has had a long career in education and development, working in India and overseas on social and environmental concerns. As NID’s Director, he partnered the late Ravi J Matthai from the beginnings of the Jawaja experiment in 1975 and has since sustained his contact with AAJ.
The visa rejection is symbolic of both the neglect of crafts at high levels of decision-making worldwide, and the enormous gap between the rhetoric of donor nations and what they can actually deliver on the ground. A small but determined group of Indian artisans have been denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which they are today attempting to recover with support from a video-conference facility located at IIMA’s Ravi J Matthai Centre in Ahmedabad.