Presented at the International Seminar on “Crafts, Craftspersons & Sustainable Development”, New Delhi, November 16-18, 2002, sponsored by the Crafts Council of India, Development Commissioner for Handicrafts(Government of India) and the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts
I. Some Background Propositions
(i) The Education System:
The traditional Indian school system was characterized
by value-based core texts common to all students irrespective of class or caste, and then specialized professional texts such
as the shilpashastras respective to the students’ occupational backgrounds.
The system that, under colonial rule, completely replaced it is rooted in the industrial ethos,
with students trained primarily not to become good citizens and human beings but to serve as well-trained workers for an
industrial economy. Its core is not value-based but market-based. Today, education in liberal values is at a discount,
education in pecuniary values at a premium.
Crafts as traditional community-based occupations survive nowhere in the industrially advanced
economies. This is a historical fact. Notwithstanding sentimental rhetoric about India’s ancient heritage and resilient
culture, and official claims of a resurgence of handicrafts in India (presumably in money not people terms).SRUTI has
demonstrated conclusively that India is no exception to this eventuality.
The artisan population of India, though still noteworthy in numerical terms, continues steadily
to decline. Any craftskill and the people practising it need patronage to survive and flourish. Such patronage, in the form
of the hereditary services exchange (jajmani) system, was general in the culture, but with the dying of this system artisans
began to turn for patronage to non-traditional markets and to the government.
There is ample data – SRUTI draws on this – that neither the modern market nor official policy
has any genuine interest in the survival of the crafts or, more relevantly, of artisans, except insofar as artisans are cheap
labour or their products earn foreign exchange. And in the school education system, such crafts as are taught are “hobbies”
– the teachers are themselves products of the industrial system and what they teach is quite clearly incidental in the
education of the child.
In the industrial market-based system, creative expression is distinguished as “Fine Art” or
“Art” and “Folk Art” or “Crafts” depending primarily on the social class of the producer and also on whether or not the
product is utilitarian.
In the industrially advanced economies, with the eradication of the “folk”, the creative
distinction between “Art” and “Craft” (though still utility-based) is very slowly blurring, and the generic word “maker” is
coming in to describe those whose creativity finds expression through the hand-made process (“manu-facture” is literally
With the rise of what has been called the (informational) Third Wave that has striking
structural similarities to the (agricultural) First Wave, there is a distinct consciousness gradually arising in the
industrially advanced societies of the real and symbolic value of the hand-made process. This is part of larger concerns of
sustainable development and of ecological and human(e) concerns. However, such consciousness remains minimal in the Indian
school education system.
II. The Current Situation
Official and elite determination that India revive its historical
prosperity by treading the same path that brought material prosperity to the now industrially advanced societies;
A school education system that serves this path and in which crafts or,
more generally, an understanding of the handmade process, is conspicuous by its absence;
The well-documented decline in the Indian artisan population;
The absence of sufficiently effective will and patronage to halt or
reverse any of the above insofar as crafts and education are concerned.
Whether or not such patronage can or will arise is a larger
paradigmatic issue. Crafts as products must compete in the modern market with industrially-made products for the same use
and, generally, are purchased primarily when they have a cost advantage. It is no secret that vast quantities of products
not authentically handmade pass off as “handicrafts”, to the advantage of small industries but not of craftspeople as usually
The market remains the key to the welfare of artisans. The current
industrial market system is essentially profit-based, though niche demand is slowly expanding for the recognition of human
values, that is, profits made humanely through an ethos of sustainable development.
Increasingly, even in India, children as independent consumers are
being created and catered to by a consumerism-driven market, with industries tying up directly with schools to endorse and
consume their products.
The school education system is steadily not just promoting
industrially-made products but is consciously creating customers for them.
“Crafts” in the post-school education system is nominal; where it is
present it is usually as an adjunct to “Design” as a primary subject. Some years ago, at the initiative of a leading women’s
college in New Delhi, an NGO showed how artisans and their knowledge and skills could be integrated into almost every aspect
of the home science course taught in that college but, because of intra-collegiate politics, the effort came to naught.
III. What Can Be Done
It is not just a matter of the education system promoting an industrially-made product; it is of the education system
promoting the ethos associated with such product and its making. Such ethos is the very antithesis of the ethos associated
with the handmade process and, quite obviously, as the example shows of the industrially advanced societies, crafts and
craftspeople have no significant future in such a context. The question, therefore, is why cannot the Indian school
education system promote the alternative, especially since a consciousness of this alternative is arising in those very
societies that gave us our current system and, moreover, a consciousness that their economies are beginning to realize is
profitable for them in the longterm.
Marketing sponsorships/promotions/contracts in or with schools should be banned by legislation.
It is necessary to create among schoolchildren an awareness of the real and symbolic value of
the handmade process. Today’s children are already customers for themselves and, if they can and are being taught to hook
themselves to the consumption of carbonated sugared water, they can surely learn to appreciate the handmade process and its
human and ecological significance so that they become practitioners and patrons of this process and its products.
“Made by hand” today represents a value, and it is this value that must be mainstreamed in the
education system. While sensitisation and creative expression courses for students, parents, teachers and policymakers are
necessary in the larger context, the simplest and most effective measure will be to require all students to learn a
“manu-facturing” skill as a core subject of the syllabus, to be given the same weightage by the system as the other core
subjects. Certainly there will be glitches in implementation but in the longterm there is no reason why one from amongst a
selection of craftskills prevalent in the school’s “catchment area” need not be required from each student as a core subject
– “visiting faculty” will be easily available and must be from amongst the traditional artisans in that area. There are
literally thousands of schools spread all over our country, and artisans working in every corner of it too. It is suggested
this is the simplest and most straightforward way of integrating crafts, craftspersons and the current education system.
“Made by hand” today also represents a profit-making value – and an understanding of this must
be introduced in the economics and commerce syllabi in schools as part of the concept of sustainable development, as well as
for helping to understand how millions of our fellow-citizens live.
Given acceptance in principle, implementation becomes a matter of strategic detail. There are 3 all-India school examination
authorities (CBSE, ISCE and NOS) and each State has its own board of education. The ISCE would probably be the most open to
advantageous longterm change, and some State boards should be responsive too. Craftspeople as visiting faculty must receive
honorarium and facilities at the same rate as regular faculty. NGOs can act as facilitators. Just as science subjects are
taught through “theory” and “practicals”, the craftskill will be taught – by an artisan – possibly as the “practicals” of the
larger subject of “sustainable development” in social studies/economics/commerce and/or environmental science, or other
subjects as may be appropriate. The objective is not to make each student a skilled artist but to provide each student with
a context for enjoying and appreciating making things by hand, as well as the values and concepts that the industrially
advanced world is now re-learning: profit through co-operation, sustainable development, environment protection, ecological
holism, and a general concern for all sentient beings.
It necessarily follows that people who make by hand – craftspeople, artisans, makers, or by whatever name called – will
flourish in such an economy and such a worldview.
IV. Some Background References
*Dharampal, “The Beautiful Tree” (Mapusa: The Other India Press, 1996)
*Ronnie Cohen, “Schoolhouse Rot” (Mother Jones, Jan 10, 2001)
**SRUTI, “India’s Artisans: a status report” (New Delhi: Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiative, 1995)
Worldwatch News Release, “All-You-Can-Eat Economy is Making the World Sick”, May 24, 2001.
** “Must-read” for those seriously interested in Indian crafts and Indian education.