|First Published, July 2008, Craft Revival Trust|
|9% growth rates are now the defining feature of our economy. These figures only serve to highlight the utterly exclusive nature of the current framework of economic development especially when see in the light of the Arjun Sengupta report on Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihood in the Unorganized Sector within which lies the category of the craft worker.
Indeed the figures make for dismal reading as the Sengupta Committee has assessed that in 2004-2005 this universe of unorganized workers, defined as those who do not have employment security, work security and social security constitute a total workforce of 395 million of which 142 million are in the non agriculture sector into which most craft workers fall and 77% of this vast number have an income of less than Rs 20 per day.
This situation calls for immediate steps to ensure measures for livelihood enhancement and a minimum working standard for craft workers. As members of civil society we need to respond. How can we make a difference – what tools do we have at our disposal that can be yielded to create changes and improve livelihoods and promote economic growth.
On discussions with colleagues and associates I wish to share an experience that could lead to a way forward.
A little more than 2 years ago a band of 7 women calling themselves the Tuesday Collective gathered once every week, often more often, to work towards bring about policy change in one of the major programs in the Handloom sector being funded by the Textile Ministry. They worked quietly, researched systematically and made recommendations for change.
They approached government at the highest level and managed with quiet advocacy to initiate a major change in policy.
It is my submission that if this small group could do it than how much more can we do if we work together with a focused aim to bring about change that we all wish to see.
I would like to put forward some issues for discussion and debate that could form a focal point in this advocacy push to government and within civil society.
One of the key lacunae of the Craft sector is the lack of accurate and current data on employment figures.
The inadequacy of the statistical data base makes the task of generating estimates on its economic significance or the scale of this sector an uphill one.
The most recent census enumeration of the Handloom and the Handicrafts sector both separately conducted by the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) were carried out in 1995-96. Now more that 12 years ago and by its own admission limited to known craft concentration pockets.
This inadequate data base has resulted in the craft sector not being assessed as a major contributor to the economy in terms of GDP or employment generation.
This brings us to an important issue, not just from the point of view of measuring progress but of policy making. A reliable data base is fundamental to micro level planning in any sector. And the craft sector is no exception. To be effective, well targeted and not another colossal waste of funds, policies need to first be grounded in numbers.
For this sector to be positioned to realize its full potential we need to stand up and be counted.
The foremost push is required here.
The task of enumerating the number of artisans in India is however fraught with difficulty on account of definitional confusion. The artisinal sector is far from homogeneous. There is an enormous diversity with respect to materials use, forms of production, type of products, level of skills and nature of knowledge transmission.
On studying various documents while preparing for the seminar today I came across numerous terms used by government and others concerned with crafts producers. Most use the term craftsperson and artisan inter changeably. Some refer to the Handicrafts Industry or the Cottage Industry, the Village industry, the Rural Industry, the Self Employed, the household unit, Traditional industry, the handloom sector, the unorganized sector, the informal sector, the small scale sector and I am sure there are several terms that are left out.
This general lack of clarity will result in incomplete enumeration, difficulties in comparing data from different sources, problems in distinguishing between artisans and other members of the informal / unorganized sector or between artisinal and other modes of production.
It is my submission that we need to put together a definition not only for the enumerator but for other issues too that have ramifications beyond enumeration.
This sector is beset by poor levels of access to information, the intimidatory nature of officialdom, the lack of coordination between different ministries and the duplication of effort in the expenditure of scarce resources.
There are as we are all aware a substantial number of government programs, schemes, subsidies available not least in the office of the DC Handicrafts and Handlooms.
At the last count there were besides the Textiles Ministry 12 other ministries and departments that have schemes and programs that can be accessed by craftspeople and NGOs
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Tribal Affairs, Culture and Tourism, Women and Child, Ministry of Food Processing, the Environment Ministry, Rural Development, the Commerce Ministry, Industry, the Human Resource Development Ministry and counting.
In the short term we need to collate the relevant schemes, evaluate them, check for gaps, if necessary seek modifications and then create a clearing house of information, perhaps a ready reckoner on how best to access them. N.G.O.’s are currently best suited to become facilitators by creating comprehensive database of such programs.
In the long term we need more focused attention and perhaps a push for a separate Ministry of the crafts.
Perhaps Civil Society can resolve to form a loose confederation of craft workers and activists following the example of the CII -the Confederation of Indian Industry. Really a Confederation of Indian Crafts. An inclusive force that includes organizations and individuals within these four walls and outside. That works towards common benefits and as a policy advocacy forum with a definite and unambiguous statement of objectives. A swift response mechanism that works to set standards and push through reforms.
Or perhaps even push Government for a separate Ministry for the Hand Crafts and Handlooms of India.
There’ is no shortage of challenges but we need to choose our battles and battle them to the win.
Extract of speech delivered at the Crafts Council of India seminar – Crafts in Transition in February 2008 at Kolkatta.