Indian Crafts for the Next Generation


Indian Crafts for the Next Generation

Chatterjee, Ashoke


Welcome and Opening
Welcoming participants to this Kamaladevi Centenary Seminar, CCI President Shri Ashoke Chatterjee said that it was entirely appropriate to hold the seminar simultaneously with the KAMALA exhibition, which reflected the issues and opportunities which are its subject. Karnataka was Kamaladeviji’s home in many respects, and therefore it was also fitting that this tribute should be located in Bangalore. Her pioneering efforts helped rescue crafts from neglect and the impact of colonial rule. Thanks to Kamaladevi and other pioneers, today crafts are living and vital part of India both in terms of cultural values as well as in importance to India’s economic development. Any consideration of crafts for the next generation needs to focus on the opportunities which the sector can provide to millions of young craftspersons. Without a sound economic foundation, a viable future was impossible. Despite its importance to the Indian economy (handcrafts are estimated to provide the largest employment outside of agriculture), no one is able to provide an accurate picture of the sector’s size and scope. The number of artisans estimated in various documents ranges from 4 million to 200 million! What we do know is that the turnover last year of a selected group of crafts has been estimated at Rs60,000 crores, of which exports comprises Rs8,000 crores and textiles some 50% of the total turnover. These large figures disguise a real crisis in the sector. Ignorance of craft economics is part of this crisis, compounded by uncertainties in a rapidly changing scenario. Stringent competition, huge changes in lifestyles, new trade regimes are all part of the reason why artisans are in distress, moving to other occupations and sometimes even to suicide. There are no organized, professional marketing systems to backup a sector of this size and importance. Finance, technology, raw material and management skills are all difficult to access. Yet there is another side. Rising living standards provide a huge domestic market opportunity, estimated to be worth Rs3,500 crores in a few selected cities alone. This reflects increasing disposable income among the urban middle class, as well as the attraction of craft products for urban and young audiences. Opportunities overseas are almost limitless provided artisans and traders can together cope successfully with market requirements and new trade regimes. In addition, the new United Nations system of international accounts — the Human Development Indices — provides a major opportunity for acknowledging crafts not only by statistics but equally as essential to a good quality of life. There is also the global interest in ecologically viable production systems, reinforced at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg. This seminar should therefore assist an integrated approach that can bring new opportunities to the service of artisans communities and help them to cope with the challenges and barriers that persist. These discussions as well as future NGO interventions can draw strength from the outcome of the November Golden Jubilee Seminar held in New Delhi. Indeed, this seminar takes forward that national and international reflection on the experience of the past 50 years. The focus at New Delhi had been on the Shilp Gurus. Here, we take that analysis forward to the Next Generation of masters.

Dr Lotika Varadarajan opened the discussion with a presentation of the Kalashiksha concept of education for craftspersons, now to be implemented as an experiment in selected locations. Dr Varadarajan distinguished between craft and art, stressing the opportunities for synergy between them. Tracing the history of key government institutions and policies established for craft development, she pointed out the need to create educational opportunities specially for traditional craftspersons, to help them to bridge tradition and modernity with confidence. The transmission of tradition from one generation to the next requires fresh support systems in this complex environment. Kalashiska in an ambitious scheme not restricted to skill or design or income generation. Rather, it is about how tradition can transfer successfully and how it can merge with contemporary situations, always keeping the craftsperson at the centre of development. Group dynamics, transactional analysis, semiotics and other fields of knowledge would all be used in this approach at “kala sadhna”, not to duplicate mainstream education but to use a flexible methodology of workshops and “floating programmes”. The efforts would start in Gujarat, M.P. and Chattisgarh. Local school teachers and senior district officials would be key resources. NGO would play an essential role as catalysts in this experiment to support new generations of craftspersons.


                     Moderator – Ms Jasleen Dhamija

 Inspired by Kamaladeviji, Ms Siva Obeyesekere (Sri Lanka) has tracked craft development in her country over three generations. The Sri Lanka experience suggests the importance of developing college-level craft education alternatives to conventional university opportunities. These would give young craftspersons (YCPs) the status they need as well as exposure to skills, culture, values and entrepreneurship abilities. Promoting the next generation will also continue to require protective policies in countries like Sri Lanka which are highly dependent on imported materials. Fortunately the Government of Sri Lanka’s policies and planning are very pro-craft.

Ms Raja Fuziah Binti Raja Tun Uda (Malaysia) called for strong regional collaboration which could help young craftsperson to network with each other and expand their knowledge through new opportunities like websites, awards and other regional recognition. A working definition of “young craftsperson” in the Malaysian context are those who have the motivation, attitude, skills, cultural sensitivity, innovative abilities as well as entrepreneurship understanding to cope with market realities.  She felt it was important for young craftsperson to be able to access their own business opportunities. Young craftspersons in Malaysia are a relatively small number (out of an estimated total of 1008 persons recognized as craftspersons) and they benefit from pro-craft government policies.

Ms Aarthi Kawlra (NIFT) stressed the importance of avoiding blanket solutions for YCPs and of understanding the variety of socio-economic contexts within which they function. Four models of craft production were presented as examples of the range of Indian craft situations. This diversity requires that tradition be understood not in any narrow sense but rather as an attitude, and as a traditional ability of Indian artisans to respond to change and challenge. Development of community resources should be a priority for future development, and specific education and training recommended.

(Note: Aarti please flesh this out with highlights of your paper.)

The discussion which followed heard Sri Munuswamy (terracotta craftsman, Pondicherry) who had participated in the focus group discussions with YCPs organized by CCI as preparation for this seminar. He stressed the importance of educational opportunities as the key to YCP development. He asked for reserved seats in design institutions as well as faculty opportunities in craft and design institutions. The Kalaraksha Craft Museum proposal could be a model, and provide a major incentive as well as resource for access to design and technology. Joint ventures at the village level could bring together YCPs in their own organizations. He cited the failure of clusters and SHGs, which were basically not under the control of craft communities. Access was demanded to special financial benefits and reservations, similar to those available to SC/ST/BCs and freedom fighters. Sri Munuswamy was also critical of recognition that goes to “non-traditional craftsperson” rather that to those who are “like us”.

There was consensus on the need to develop opportunities for YCPs that would include entrepreneurship development along with craft skills and creativity.

Session 2:   A New Generation – Craftspersons from Non-Traditional Backgrounds Moderator – Shri Ashoke Chatterjee

Prof M P Ranjan (NID) provided a definition of crafts and craftspersons which he considered more appropriate to the current situation of entrants from within as well as from outside tradition. He described craftsmanship as a capability and capacity essential to many aspects of learning and professional practice. It was both an attitude as well as a skill. Fostering this quality was a major educational and training challenge. His paper focussed on an approach to regional crafts for economic and cultural re-generation through the experience of two craft institutions which NID has helped establish: The Indian Institute of Crafts and Design Institute in Jaipur and the Cane and Bamboo Institute in Agartala. Candidates entering these institutions may come from non-traditional backgrounds. They would learn from craftsperson who would act as core faculty. Prof Ranjan presented an appraoch which takes craft education and training into a context wider than the situation of any single community. He suggested the need to develop a cadre of craftspersons with sensitivity and respect for tradition as well as an ability for business success that could ensure sustainable livelihoods.

Ms Surapee Rojanavongse presented the role of NGOs in Thailand to help promote the Government of Thailand’s approach toward reviving traditional skills as a poverty reduction strategy. She also described the activities of the Asian Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (AHPDA) which is an ASEAN effort at promoting tradition access and contemporary level to training opportunities for YCPs. A seal of excellence was one of the means used to demonstrate and promote quality standards.

In the discussions that followed, Ms Raja Faziah appreciated Prof Ranjan’s educational models and suggested the need for greater interaction on them, perhaps through a joint opportunity in Malaysia which could help artisans to understand the concept and to respond to it. The need for political will for craft promotion at the highest level was emphasized, while several members called for a strong follow-up to South-South cooperation recommendations, and to the removal of tariff barriers which could obstruct craft trade in the Asian region.

Sri Gurappa Chetty called for a recognition and quality standards that could reduce exploitation and provide for a sustained market for a high quality.

Session 3:   Trade Experience in Promoting Quality Crafts

              Moderator – Ms Raja Fuziah Binti Raja Tun Uda

This session opened with Ms Hema Sankalya’s presentation of Contemporary Arts and Crafts (CAC) 40-year experience in crafts for a contemporary Indian market. Its pioneering approach began in an era which was still new to crafts as life-style, functional products. CAC’s early efforts involved artists, traditional craftspersons, and the first professional designers to enter the Indian market. As a commercial organization, CAC believed in recognizing traditional craft talent as well as working with NGOs and with designers toward product innovation and the use of new materials to create “contemporary craft products for modern life-styles”. Functional and aesthetic products of an ever-changing market included machine-made items finished by hand. The CAC experience was presented by a review of each decade’s outstanding product lines, highlighting the aesthetic nature of each collection as well as experiments with modern materials and processes in combination with traditional craft skills.

Ms Neelam Chibber offered the experience of Industree as a much younger enterprise based in Bangalore. Its focus was on approaching the contemporary market through understanding existing craft resources in terms of skills, materials and artisans’ opennes to new challenges. Industree’s approach was defined as “wanting the artisans to earn more – full stop!” A strong understanding among craft communities of cost/price issues was critical to the market success of any product innovation. For export promotion, there was almost no margin for error in such judgments. Industree product innovations therefore reflect the situation of the communities with which it works as the primary resource and constraint, channelising them in a way that meets the demands of makers and markets while also setting contemporary benchmarks of quality.

Discussions focussed on the importance of pioneers such as CAC and contemporary enterprises like Industree documenting their experience and processes. This must be an essential learning for new generations of both craftspersons and craft enterpreneurs. The absence of such institutional memory within the craft sector was recognized as a major problem, both in India and throughout the Asian region: “We look at the products and fail to appreciate the history behind them”. It was recommended that CAC in particularly ensure that its 40-year history is preserved for posterity.

Session 4:   Support Systems – Role of NGOs in Craft Development

                     Moderator – Ms Vijayalakshmi Prabhakar

Ms Subhashini Kohli of Sasha (Calcutta) spoke of Sasha early beginning when “money-making was considered a dirty word among NGOs”. Sasha began as a hand-holding effort with local craft communities. An early lesson was that in responding to market needs Sasha would have to break tradition more frequently than it could sustain tradition. Finding earning opportunities for craft communities demanded bringing technology, economics and management capabilities not only to producers but also to NGOs working with them. Sustainable livelihoods and poverty alleviation have since assumed even greater significance for Sasha in the present context of globalization and its trade implications. Inherent in this is the need for international as well as national cooperation toward fair trade practices. Sasha has been an active participant in several regional fora, examining the challenge of international trade practices that impinge on the future of craft communities. The need for regional cooperation was paramount.

Ms Kohli illustrated the employment potential through the Sasha experience in ‘Kantha’, an experience which also demonstrated the challenge of bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary markets as well as linking the producer and the consumer more effectively. NGOs had a critical role in providing this bridge function.

Ms Beth Gottschling presented the experience of Aid To Artisans (ATA, USA) in assisting artisan groups worldwide to forge international partnerships that could provide improved livelihoods, encourage craft traditions, stimulate cultural vitality and assist community wellbeing. ATA acts as a “marriage broker” between buyer and seller. ATA works to strengthen the capacity of producers to cope with export markets, particularly those in north America. A training methodology has been tested to assist artisans to overcome the gap between what they currently produce and what their potential markets demand. ATA provides market links, product development and design inputs, and business capacity-building through training.

ATA works through NGOs in developing countries to identify interested and capable crafts groups so as to develop them as competent and trusted role-models who can in turn diversify and understand markets, adopt and adapt appropriate technologies, and help reduce risk factors so as to encourage long-term investments. ATA focus is on helping partners understand the business cycle and thereby promoting business partnerships that otherwise might not develop because of barriers of high investment and low return.

Stressing the NGO role in this connection, Ms Gottschling said ATA concentrates its investment in those areas were the risk for the private sector is currently too high. It works with craft communities and business houses until the latter are sufficiently confident to take over. She stressed the importance of developing a relationship with business houses that are or can be sympathetic to and supportive of a craft mission. ATA’s experience was very positive in this regard and it was important to ensure that the profit motive subserves the artisan’s interests, which must always come first.

Ms Dinara Chochunbaeva (President, Central Asia Crafts Support Association, CACSA) began her presentation by saying that if the former speakers thought they had problems, they should reflect on the challenges in her region! Crafts in Central Asia are in extreme crisis following the collapse of Soviet Union and its homogenized, fictional approach to indigenous cultures. She described the situation in three of the newly independent states: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan has a strong NGO foundation and a craft sector dominated by women. Uzbekistan has a most advanced crafts market and Kazakhstan is also fairly well placed. Tajikistan has suffered internal strife while Turkmenistan is still closed.

The region needs to adapt its product range to the market, currently dominated by foreign tourists. Training is a major lacuna, for which regional cooperation as well as South-South cooperation is essential. India could provide strong support to these countries through opportunities for exposure to new technologies. Simplification of customs and tariff regimes between the Central Asian countries is another major need. In this region ATA has played a strong role in bringing craft communities together and assisting product development. The recent visit by Crafts Council of India representatives to the region has suggested several opportunities for future collaboration.

An important initiative by Udyogini (New Delhi) to set up a marketing support system for crafts was introduced by Deborah Thiagarajan on behalf of Vanitha Vishwanath (CEO, Udyogini) Over the past year Udyogini has been working with a group of craft NGOs (including Dastakar, Sasha, Aditi and Dakshin-Chitra) towards understanding current market challenges and developing a national-level marketing mechanism which could help transcend the limitation of individual NGOs by providing joint financial, technical and institutional resources for developing marketing opportunities. The proposed national level organization would be involved with a variety of functions including market intelligence, showcasing and sales opportunities, design and technical services, and linkages with financial institutions. Helping individual NGOs toward better management systems would be a part of this service. Promoters of the new organization would initially be NGOs already enjoying close fraternal relationships. They would contribute to the capital, and the organization would be registered as a non-profit company, run on thoroughly professional lines. At present grants and contributions are being invited to enable the organization to commence work. In the initial stages of its development, the new institution would be looking for opportunities to piggy-back on partners and well-wishers so as to reduce administrative overheads and to help ensure a national coverage.

In the discussion that followed there was a strong support for a follow-up on the regional cooperation suggestions made by Ms Chochunbaeva. There were several questions on ATA’s future plans in India. Recent experience with its Maker To Market fund has been very positive. A need for greater understanding of intellectual property right (IPR) issues in the craft sector was raised, a management need which perhaps both ATA and the Udyogini experiment could help address. NGOs working in the craft sector were again encouraged to document their field experience for wider learning across the Asian region. This would not only build the data base essential to all working in the sector, but also pave the way for capacity-building efforts in the craft sector.

Session 5:   Role of Government in Craft Development

                     Moderator – Prof. M P Ranjan

The session opened with a presentation by Mr Chinnaphat (Thailand). He presented the experience of the Thai Government in promoting crafts through (Note: Aarti – please fill in, based on material now received from him).

Ms Ungku Abrizah Ungku Tahir (Malaysian Handicrafts Development Corporation, MHDC) presented Malaysia’s experience since 1958 toward raising the economic status of its rural population through craft development. The objective of the MHDC is to promote craft industry through strong marketing and entrepreneurship skill development. Young craftspersons receive guidance in production methods, management and marketing exposure. Consultancy in product design is available on a cost sharing basis and a trade promotion incentive scheme offers linkages to domestic and overseas marketing opportunities. A national craft institute offers two and three-year training courses at the certificate and diploma levels. A production incubator center provides works space on rental to craft enterprises at nine development centers, where the range of technical and management training opportunities are also made available.

(Discussion – Aarti – please fill in if necessary.)

Session 6:   Conclusions and Recommendations – Ms Lotika Varadarajan, Prof M P Ranjan, Ms Raja Fuziah Binti Raja Tun Uda, Ms Vimala Rangachar (Panelists)

                     Moderator – Shri Ashoke Chatterjee

In the final session, four panelists were invited to contribute their insights on the directions which had emerged from the Seminar sessions. Dr Lotika Varadarajan stressed the importance of education as a foundation for craft development. She said each method presented at the Seminar had its own validity, and suggested the need for follow-up opportunities that could concentrate on linkages needed between education on the one hand and marketing competence on the other. The Crafts Council should consider organizing training opportunities for NGOs entering the craft sector, so that they could better understand the challenges and options available, as had been suggested by Ms Aarti Kawlra’s paper. A key role for NGO intervention must be to assist craft communities in accessing and coping with official assistance schemes. Dr Varadarajan suggested a special workshop on this issue. The pyramidical structure of Government’s financial system make it almost impossible for those at the grassroots to manage the complexities of access and disbursement. Dr Varadarajan referred to the Shilpa Guru scheme just introduced by the DC(H) and suggested that the first recipient, Sri Gurappa Chetty, share his experience with the Crafts Council, and the Council assist him and others (including the Development Commissioner) to ensure that this new opportunity works smoothly.

Prof M P Ranjan reiterated the need for a new definition and understanding of the term ‘craftsperson’ to embrace the larger community of entrants in addition to those who enter through tradition and heritage. It was also important to recognize the contribution which craftsmen using their heritage are making to contemporary production methods and design challenges. Recognition was also important for the emergence of new crafts based on new materials and technologies, such as the use of plastics and re-cycled products/materials. The distinction between the so-called ‘artistic’ and ‘functional’ crafts also require better understanding in a shared context of appropriateness to use and purpose. Prof Ranjan stressed the importance of integrating crafts in school curricula to develop both sensitivity as well as manual abilities and understanding of materials. He suggested that schools include courses that encourage innovation and creativity, giving recognition to the crafts in this pedagogical context. He called on the Crafts Council to take the initiative. The insights of trade experience were important to document, such as those shared by CAC and Industree.

Ms Raja Fuziah called for an action agenda through the World Crafts Council (Asia-Pacific Region) which could focus on the implications of the educational models presented in Prof Ranjan’s paper. She suggested the need to expand on this presentation, and to fill in the content for each of the models in an Asian context. Regional cooperation must also focus on the needs of young craftspersons and systems of incentive and recognition which regional cooperation could provide. Bringing the ASEAN and SAARC countries into a stronger framework of cooperation could be assisted through activating the recommendations of this seminar.

Ms Vimala Rangachar (CC Karnataka) underlined the importance of a better understanding among activists in South Asia of the implications of fair trade practices, and particularly the impact of new trade regulations on issues such as those concerning the rights of the child and child labour. Guidance was needed and help NGOs to balance protection of children from exploitation with the protection of traditional channels of craft heritage that are passed from parent to child. Vocational training that could give young people new opportunities for sustainable livelihood needs active promotion.

An issue raised in this context was a recent Government of Tamil Nadu law requiring all children to be in the official school system. Crafts Council of India’s center at Sriperumbudur has been affected as the children brought together there are now required to shift to government schools. Crafts Council has developed a curriculum which combined basic education with craft skill development. The future of this experiment has now become uncertain.

Other speakers raised the impact of Government’s privatization intentions on the future of state-run craft emporia. Ms Jasleen Dhamijia asked whether Crafts Council and other NGOs would consider taking over some of these emporia. If this was not practical, atleast there was a need to suggest restructuring options to the notice of central and state governments. Bringing corporate houses into the dialogue may also now be essential, so that the private sector can be encouraged to play a constructive role. A task force to look into the new policy environment was suggested, which should include craftspersons and young blood. Ms Dhamija suggested that ATA might explore the possibilities of a permanent space in north America for showcasing Asian crafts.

Prof M P Ranjan suggested that the ecological contribution of craft production be advocated strongly with planners and decision makers.

Ms Raja Fuziah said that documentation efforts also include video tapes of production processes that could be exchanged between communities and countries.

Issues and Next Steps

In his concluding review of two days of discussion, Shri Ashoke Chatterjee highlighted the following issues that had emerged as priorities and as next steps:

  1. Several aspects of India’s education system have come under review, both formal and non-formal. The Kalashiksha concept should be widely circulated among participants so that the idea could be encouraged and possibly used beyond the locations receiving official sponsorship. Importance of crafts within formal and non-formal learning systems requires fresh consideration, keeping in mind the interventions made by YCPs and Prof Ranjan. The impact of legislation requiring all children to attend formal systems needs special study in the context of craft-related efforts by NGOs directed at children of craft communities.
  1. Dr Aarti Kawlra’s paper on alternative support system for young craftspersons now requires translation into next steps as well as into possible training opportunities for NGOs.
  1. Prof M P Ranjan’s models of craftsmanship/craftsperson and craft education, and his call for new definitions of these terms to make them more relevant in the contemporary context, needs to move into a next phase of analysis and application, as suggested by Ms Raja Fuziah. This could require special brainstorming opportunities, nationally and regionally.
  1. Strengthening regional cooperation has emerged as a major recommendation to help bring SAARC, ASEAN and Central Asian regions into closer South-South cooperation and exchange. Here again, we now need specific steps, based on suggestions made by speakers.
  1. The fair trade concept presented by Sasha has important implications in the context of the emerging WTO regime. Most of us know little about this. Therefore partnership with other NGOs and experts will be essential. Sasha could perhaps help us to understand the possible next steps which craft NGOs should take to improve there own understanding. ATA’s access to US expertise might also be helpful in this regard.
  1. Intellectual property rights (IPR) is a dimension of globalization and the WTO regime which could be critical to protecting craft traditions, which recognizing that these are difficult to enforce through legal channels. The concensus appears to be that Asian craft tradition needs protection through sensitising consumers and traders about authenticity and quality. Quality marks and certification schemes have been suggested. Implementing these is the challenge. One option would be for craft groups such as Crafts Council to include there own hallmark scheme as certification of authenticity and quality control. Regional and international support demands close cooperation within the region and with organizations such as ATA who are working with overseas buyers to establish ethical trade practices.
  1. There is an urgent need to share information on craft training facilities and resources available within the country and the Asian region, toward better cooperation and outreach.
  1. Documentation of trade experience will be an essential input for developing training programmes that can address priority needs. CAC, Sasha and Industree could make a major contribution by documenting the experience that they have shared at the seminar.
  1. Reviewing existing government schemes in order to assist access by craft communities requires special attention, as recommended by Dr Lotika Varadarajan. The new Government scheme for Shilp Gurus deserves careful monitoring and support.
  1. ATA has emerged as an important window to skills essential to craft exports. Close linkages with ATA’s training and product development programmes should be made by NGOs in this region.
  1. The presentation of a national mechanism for craft marketing requires follow-up through Udyogini (New Delhi). This effort is of specific relevance to NGOs who have achieved a sales turnover of Rs25 lacs, who could now join as shareholders in the proposed non-profit company. Udyogini was invited to keep participants in touch with next steps.
  1. Issues of social security (particularly pension and medical insurance) continue to be a major concern for most craft communities. These need to be looked at in the context of self-help clusters. Next steps could include a dialogue with government agencies on schemes available or possible through the cluster approach as well as closer liaison with NGOs specializing on social security issues.
  1. The approach to craft intervention outlined by Prof David Baradas (Philippines) at the November seminar in New Delhi (attached) could be used as an important tool in managing NGO intervention in crafts. The approach helps NGOs to understand the cultural and commercial implications of their decisions, and to develop strategies that can see these as complementary rather than as conflicting options. The seminar has reinforced the validity of Prof. Barada’s approach.
  1. The suggestion that craft NGOs intervene with policy and strategy suggestions on moves to privatize state-run craft emporia requires consideration.

Kamaladevi Centenary Celebration Seminar, Bangalore

4 & 5 April 2003

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