The handloom and handicrafts sector in India is a highly nuanced one. While at one level campaigns like #ilovehandloom reckon that we take pride in it, on the other as a country we couldn’t care less. I say this, as unless we understand the demands of this sector in the real sense, we will never be able to realise its true potential:
1) Make in India, Skill India will have no meaning if we do not see this sector as a critical part of it. It is after all the second largest employment generator in the country. However, the trend unfortunately has been to first de-skill these artisans (as middlemen make most of the profit) and then talk of re-skilling them. The conversation needs to change.
As per UN reports, India has already lost 30% of its artisans in the last 30 years. Most of these uprooted artisans have migrated to cities and taken menial jobs such as, daily wage construction workers, rickshaw pullers etc. What this means is that we need to augment their core skills of being an artisan with appropriate market linkages, rather than replacing their skills.
Even CSR programmes under themes of livelihood generation, skill India and empowerment need to help the sector urgently and help it find its grounding within the villages only.
2) The consumer awareness needs to improve a lot more. Since we do not understand the true value of handicrafts as domestic consumers, we therefore do not want to pay the correct price for it. Leave alone valuing it as a cultural heritage; the middlemen make most of the profits keeping the wages of the artisans extremely low.That’s a pity, as not only are our artisans living a low-carbon life in the villages, but both the handlooms and the natural dyes contribute in environment conservation significantly.
Internationally there has been a rising demand for such low-carbon handcrafted products as the market for handicrafts stands at $400 billion globally. However, India’s share is below 2% in this market, presenting a tremendous growth opportunity.
Handicrafts and handlooms are not only our heritage, but can offer a global comparative advantage. I sincerely hope that in the coming years, we see the ecosystem evolving and improving the condition of the artisans and weavers in the long-run.