Making Dilli Haat a crafts marketplace in the heart of Delhi a reality took me six years and quite some effort. Today I look at it as a dream that was realised. CAPART, the autonomous body connected to the Ministry of Rural development, asked for my story of its history and objectives for publication in its journal, Rural Technology, in 1995 and reprinted in A Podium on the Pavement, New Delhi: USBPD, 2004.
Haats or village markets are part of and agrarian economy; in highly industrialized nations thy have become a part of the landscape of nostalgia. In their more conservative and tradition- bound regions they are a marketplace for the self-employed producer-vendor who attracts the curiosity shopper or the leisurely housewife. The hub of business takes place in corporate offices and antiseptically organized supermarkets and department stores.
In a town like Brisbane in Australia, a haat opens up in a plaza beneath vast skyscrapers on Sundays. Woodcutters, leather workers, potters and embroiderers spread out their wares on tables or on the ground. A lively fair-like atmosphere prevails, with lemonade, bands, puppets shows and guitar players, while artisans briskly sell their artistic items of decoration or utility.
The market Convent Garden in London was a well known marketplace for flowers and vegetables at the turn of the century. Today it has become a knick-knack haat with and attempt to create an old worldly look amidst London’s slick and modern stores. The Quincy market in Boston, USA, is modeled on the same lines, with eating places and magic shows interspersed between movable stalls full of handmade bric-a-brac.
These Western shanty markets contain the same basic essence of what we recognize in India as a haat, bazaar or chanda. It serves the small and large producer, whether artisan or farmer, according to his need. The need of the rural producer is to dispose of whatever he and his family have been able to manufacture or cultivate in the quickest possible time, at the best possible price, with the least amount of overheads. The haat is flexible and informal and therefore both vigorous, vibrant and full of its own rhythms and dynamics. While it has been reduced to a relic for tourism in industrialized countries, in India the quintessential haat is still very much alive, and serves a multitude of village producers and consumers. The basic ingredients are small informal spaces allocated to a seller of wares on payment of a nominal rent, ‘side shows’ of entertainment ranging from folk performers to a mobile ‘gramophone’ playing loud film music, and eats and beverages of various sorts, from hot samosas to steaming tea and gaudy hued sherbets. Buyers are local consumers of wholesale merchants and traders from nearby towns and cities. Barter, credit facilities and a structured organization of vendors are all operational systems within a traditional haat in India.
Certain states such as West Bengal, Assam, Bihar and Orissa have a number of haats which deal with multifarious village produce such as grain, vegetables, spices, fish and fowl, local herbs and potions for medicines, baskets, rope, vessels, nails, pick axes, shovels, shoes and cloth. Soap, salt and machine-made goods have always had a place in these haats and gradually as small-scale units proliferated across the country and the corporate sector took over the manufacturers and distribution of seeds, fertilizer and agricultural implements, the haats have become a catchments market for goods both urban and rural, handmade and machine-made. In Assam most of the rural populations still rely on haats for their daily weekly necessities. Its capital Guwahati was known as a market (haat) for guwa (betel nut). Most names of towns and villages in the eastern regions ending in ‘haat’ are sure to have been locations of the wholesale marketing of goods. This provided the rural customer with a vast choice in what could be described as a lively, colorful, open-air supermarket where wholesale, retail, barter and credit were all transactions based on human relationships and a direct interface between producer and customer.
City haats serve two very important purposes. Firstly, they are the centralized marketing centers for a large number of rural producers who need to reach where the purchasing power lies, with minimum overheads and flexible stocks. Secondly, they function as an informal wholesale market for self-employed vendors with very little capital, who buy a small quantity from the haat and sell it elsewhere, off the pavement or on push carts. Since the goods are low cost due to the absence of much infrastructural cost, and the retailer has hardly any overheads other than obtaining a license or paying a hafta to local enforcement bodied, the margin of profit allows for a survival income for hundreds of thousands of petty hawkers and vendors. Thus haat creates and provides for a further extension of a decentralized system of marketing which supports the needs of the ‘small’ amongst the producer, vendor and customer.
In 1985 and experiment to translate the intrinsic strengths of the traditional haat into an urban ‘up-market’ location specifically for craftspeople was first carried out. The objective was to set up and run a weekly bazaar for itinerant exploited craftspeople of Delhi as an alternative to sales of temporary exhibitions and emporia shops. Space was vacant at the New Delhi Municipal Committee stalls at Hanuman Mandir, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, New Delhi, in the heart of Connaught Place, a densely populated commercial area. A study was undertaken with a grant from the office of the Development commissioner (Handicrafts), Ministry of Textiles, to analyze the marketing needs of artisans spread across Delhi, and to set up a haat in order to support the study with concrete action. The most important aspect of our approach from the very beginning was that existing facilities, local bodies and people’s own initiatives and organizations must be tapped in order to establish a weekly crafts haat in the marketplace of Delhi. Funded programmes, inclusive of travel and daily allowance to craftspeople, hotel lobby locations, high rents and costs of advertising were limited to the initiative and self-confidence of artisans to devise their own marketing strategies and led to an outreach only towards the upper end of the market. This was antithetical to the rationale of the traditional haat.
The survey had revealed that most artisans in Delhi were working and selling from their cramped, unhygienic dwellings and were either making sections of a product which would be assembled at other locations, or were selling their goods at extremely low prices to exporters and local retailers. A doll sold at Rs.4 was further sold at Rs. 25. It took over 18 months to persuade the New Delhi Municipal Committee that the stalls lying vacant for six days in the week may be allotted for one day (Saturday) to needy artisans having no outlets of their own.
Despite permission from the NDMC, the vendors occupying the stalls on Tuesdays for the Hanuman Mandir Mela resisted the craftspeople. The resistance was due to a long standing dispute between the temple and the NDMC in which the temple authorities claimed possession of the stall land and was complicated by a further demand by the Tuesday vendors to have the stalls permanently allotted to them. After the vendors initial fears of commercial occupation were dispelled by us and the craftspeople, a strong integration between the artisan vendors such as basket-makers and bangle-sellers has developed with us. On the opening day 95 stalls were occupied by a large variety of craftspeople from all over Delhi. Ranging form paper flower-makers to bone and sandalwood carvers, handloom weavers and potters, the bazaar (haat) took place very Saturday.
Many problems surfaced. Transport costs for potters were too high, making it unviable to sell at the haat for only one day. If goods were to be stored nearby the rental costs for large objects were too high. Security and safety of the stalls by local authorities was negligible, leading to a proliferation of sickly beggars, sweet shops and fires, and no greenery to provide shade or prevent dust. Many of the finer skilled artisans felt offended at having to sell ‘off the pavement’ in these conditions although the stalls had roofing, lights and were on a slightly raised level. The simpler artisans, who had earlier been itinerant vendors, found the area an improvement of their earlier situation. The doll-maker got Rs. 10 for the doll which earlier sold for Rs. 4. Both producer and customer benefited, while the middleman was circumvented. Dust storms, monsoon, transport strikes and bomb blasts were occupational hazards that provided regular challenges, yet, despite a depletion of numbers, a hard core of artisans attended regularly every Saturday, paying their rent of Rs. 10 per day, with and extra Rs. 4 for electricity and cleaning.
Soon it was clear hat unless sales could be extended to three days a week, travel and transport costs were too high. NDMC agreed to allot the stalls for an additional two days. Currently the bazaar functions on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays every week, with some members joining the Tuesday bazaar as well.
This whole process gave rise to the registration of the Dastkari Haat Samiti as a society in March, 1985 under the Societies Act of 1876. The strength of an organization was gradually realized through the process of weekly meetings to discuss and resolve problems, plan exhibitions and bazaars outside Delhi, increase membership and deal with the NDMC, bank officials and approach the Ministry of Textiles for grants to support training and product development programmes as well as its own craft bazaars.
The experience of the Hanuman Mandir Haat also crystallized into a concrete proposal for the establishment of a permanent marketplace for impermanent craftspeople, with all the ingredients of a traditional haat, yet upgraded to incorporate the contemporary urban environment. Adherence to aesthetics, adequate foliage, hygienic convenience facilities and an integrated developmental approach were considerable improvements on the dirt and dust of the rural haats. This also provided a feeling of well being to the craftsperson who felt upgraded in a genuine and permanent environment.
Rent structures, publicity budgets, layout plans, facilities, proposed sales and benefits were all included in the comprehensive concept plan. It was also made clear that the shops would be strictly on a short-term rental basis and the haat would be owned and administered by the government in order to ensure that no property claims would be made by any private agency or individuals. The primary objective was for the government to provide marketing facilities to craftspeople, both rural and urban, from all over India with a sense of stability and regularity through periodic contact with customers. Te proposal was presented to the Prime Minister in July, 1990.
It was extremely fortunate that both the Prime Minister and his office took immediate interest and within a week a meeting of all senior most functionaries of concerned sections of Delhi Administration and the Central Government were called for a meeting in the office of the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. Delhi Tourism Development Corporation immediately came forward to undertake the work. It took two years and some setbacks before DTDC along with its collaborators, the New Delhi Municipal Committee, completed the formalities to develop the land obtained by covering and reclaiming an empty rain water channel which stretched from along INA Market, Sri Aurobindo Marg into Kidwai Nagar. The 6.7 acres thus obtained, is now the site for the first contemporary urban haat established to facilitate the marketing of handicrafts and handlooms from all over the country. The Ministry of Textiles and the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism became active partners through substantial grants. The collaboration of two state agencies and two central ministries was a new step.
It was suggested that various organizations be mobilized to publicity this bazaar both amongst sellers and buyers. An extract of the proposal may be helpful here.
It is also very important to publicize this bazaar among craftspeople, voluntary organizations and development and income-generation bodies all over the country because ‘come and sell’ is as important a message to be conveyed of the haat as is ‘come and buy’.
At least three months prior to the opening of the bazaar there should be a major reach out to craft producers all over the country. This can be done by
It should be emphasized to all prospective participants that this bazaar will serve the needs of:
Prospective customers were viewed thus:
The advantage of a semi-open-air bazaar would be that customers of all levels could come since it is at a convenient and central place. Because of the removal of the subsidized aspect of craft promotion as well as the middleman or high markups due to high infrastructure costs, the goods will achieve a reasonable and balanced price. The lower middle class can thus be attracted back to handicrafts, apart from the younger generation who are influenced by the ‘television advertisement culture’. The upper middle class are already patronizing crafts but the newly burgeoning middle class also need to be provided the vast array of handmade utility articles for home an office use. Unfortunately, those who are attracted to handicrafts are patronizing only the state emporia, Hauz Khas village and Surajkund crafts mela which is only for two weeks in the year. All these places are viewed as fairly expensive.
The food and crafts bazaar could become a very attractive place for both domestic and foreign tourists. Delhi tourism could make it a scheduled lunch stop for their Delhi bus tours. Students can come at leisure to learn about our various craft traditions. Designers, wholesalers and exporters could conduct workshops or maintain continued personal interaction with craftspeople to evolve new products, designs and quality crafts.
As an area of low cost cultural entertainment, food and shopping while providing a green and beautiful landscape environment, it would attract families from the large government colonies nearby.
Since this is the first crafts and food marketplace developed in the garden/park environment probably anywhere in the world, it would be a unique place to attract all kinds of tourists and craft lovers from India and other countries.
The Dastkari Haat Samiti held a 10-day’Dastkari Haat’ in October, 1992 to assist DTDC. In order to publicize the future use of the site, over 120 craftspeople and groups took part. It was featured at prime time on television. It is particularly heartening that all these positive steps were taken through sheer goodwill and support for a genuine venture for the public good. The case was bolstered by the mass of genuine craftspeople who demanded, and anxiously awaited, the establishment of ‘their own marketplace’ in a prize and prime location of the nation’s capital. Changes in governments and the many agencies involved meant often a lack of focus and occasional delays in decision making and implementation. The Dastkari Haat Samiti as the catalyst and informal promoting agency played an active role in liaising with all concerned ministries. Three sets of Prime Minister’s secretaries, four textile ministers, two tourism ministers and one chief minister, apart from other officials at state and central levels, had to be prodded by the Samiti which finally resulted in the inauguration of the Dilli Haat on 28 March, 1994.
Participant of craftsmen is guided by a committee headed by the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) whose office invites, in rotation, over 60 new craftspeople every two weeks. There are general rules and regulations to ensure that authenticity of participants and to provide the rent and conduct their sales without any interference. The phasing out of controlled invitations will take place once applications in good number arrive on their own, and an adequate number of craftspeople all over the country are aware of the haat and how to benefit from it. A timid woman arrived from West Bengal with a large number of grass mats and a lazy brother in tow. At first she was anxious about costs, accommodation, and transportation, everything until suddenly after a few days a customer purchased her entire stock. She left for West Bengal, confident and happy, assuring the managing staff that she would soon be retuning with freshly made mats for the next round. Wood-carvers from Saharanpur sold Rs. 49,000 worth of furniture to Russian customers on the first day of their three-day exhibition and a potter got Rs. 9,000 for two large terracotta elephants. The toy and bangle-makers, chikan kurta embroiderers, weavers of cotton saris, displaced Kashmiri craftsmen, all find the haat an easily accessible and informal marketing space. There are bad days during heat waves and monsoon rain. Sundays are will crowded. Mondays are dull, but the promise of regularity and stability keep the products coming and prices reasonable. The food stalls of regional cuisine attract crowds who are then exposed to crafts, and a well appointed open air stage provides evening entertainment. Thus, finally, a rural tradition has come to town and proved its vitality as a marketplace tourist attraction and a centre for the preservation of a living and dynamic cultural heritage.
The administration of such a venture requires sensitivity, creativity and imagination. It is a challenge for a state enterprise to serve the needs of rural India in a modern Indian idiom, providing an opportunity for ‘market forces’ to operate within low-key government ownership, while making it a mandatory stop for shoppers and gourmets as well as Indian and foreign tourists. It has six years of effort behind it and a long way to go before it gains its own pulsating momentum, but gives reason for a warm sense of pride for the Dastkari Haat Samiti. The Dilli Haat now serve as a model for more such ventures in major state capitals to ensure a new landscape for the marketing of crafts and handlooms.