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How Globalization and Tech-advancement Are Benefitting Rural Craft Communities Empowering marginalized communities to promote their intangible cultural heritage and providing them with equal opportunity and a level playing field.

By Baishali Mukherjee

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The report- Handmade in India: Traditional Craft Skills in a Changing World by Maureen Liebl and Tirthankar Roy deals with the present situation of Indian traditional handicraft in details. It states the harsh and tragic reality of the artisans who often beg master weavers for work, or even commit suicide.

"The Andhra Pradesh weavers represent the most extreme example of what can happen when possessors of traditional knowledge find that their specialized expertise is no longer economically viable. Relatively few of India's crafts producers, conservatively estimated to number more than 8 million, have actually been driven to suicide. The vast majority, however, must struggle to eke out a meager living and suffer from poverty, lack of access to social services, illiteracy, exploitation by middlemen, and extremely low social status," further confirms the report.

In this context it becomes critical to find ways of integrating culture into livelihood as a force for inclusive socio-economic development, peace and security. Safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage as a means of livelihood is the only solution. Realizing this need many individuals and organizations along with government bodies are innovating models for transforming cultural capital into economic asset and thereby creating a green pathway for development.

Ritu Kumar, one of the most celebrated designers of India, began experimenting with traditional embroidery in 1970s and has since then revived the Mughal art of zardozi. Eventually she has revived many other traditional crafts including chikan, mirror work, Kashmiri embroidery, and hand-blocked prints. Presently, Ritu Kumar has presence across India and in UK. She is constantly engaged with traditional craftsmen of the country and has inspired the present generation to recognize traditional cultural skills as the underpinning for modern Indian design aesthetic.

Besides, Crafts Council of India,, Sasha, Dastkar, Gatha, The Indian Craft House, Okhai, Coppre, Hands of India, Kashmir Box, Himalayan Weavers are also creating a difference by working closely with Indian artisans.

Using Tech For Inclusion

Technology which offers direct and easy access and drives the desire to explore beyond known boundaries, has been a boon for the handicraft sector as well. Global consumer acquisition is a now possibility like never before if one has a product to offer. It's time makers of fabulous products with mind-blowing diversity are brought onto the radar of these consumers. The Global consumer is now increasingly conscientious and aware of the power of an informed choice.

E-commerce has open the gates for seamless access to consumer goods and this has created opportunity for inclusive growth as manufacturers of all scale living in any part of the world can now showcase their products through online platforms. Today, e-commerce is the most potential medium supporting the handicraft market.

Use of social media platforms for marketing has also increased awareness of Indian handicrafts globally. Easy access to handicraft goods through online platforms by consumers across the world has created tangible impact in the lives of rural artists. The increasing demand for handmade and handicraft products in fashion, real estate, home decor etc, at both national and international markets, is creating great opportunities for rural Indian artists. E-commerce giants including CraftedIndia, Indian Roots, Craftsvilla, Engrave are constantly empowering the artisans by creating market linkages with customers ready to pay higher prices.

Many small players are also instrumental in creating opportunities for rural handicraft sector of India. Aparna Challu, founder of, initiated her effort towards empowering marginalized communities to promote the country's intangible cultural heritage and provide them with equal opportunity and a level playing field.

Bringing Craftsperson and Communities Together

The only channel hitherto available to the artisans to market their products were either crafts-mela or through middlemen. It was a captive setup. The artisans were limited to the very bottom of the value chain and continued to be exploited. This resulted in fast-dwindling of the custodians of our wondrous heritage.Those being left-behind despite the technology and infrastructure transformations are now being brought into the mainstream economy as contributors.

According to Challu the rural sector and crafts ecosystem is as yet a great distance away from benefiting from Globalization. "We want to take on the required pace that will deliver at grass-roots to rural communities, in an age when consumerism is exploding due to globalization and technological advancements," concluded the art and craft evangelist.

The Changing Dynamics

The issues facing India's handicrafts producers require multi-pronged solutions. The good thing is that there is an existing market and new markets are developing. To generate better income there is a need for adaptation of skills and products have to meet new market demands. Direct access to market is another critical need. To sustain the traditional skill base and to protect the artisans' traditional knowledge resources, the priority is development and implementation of appropriate IPR legislation.

The government of India and its agencies contribute extensively to the handicrafts sector. Current refined and pioneering initiatives are altering the situation and the results have been impressive. The products produced under government programs are gaining international acceptance.

The initiatives taken across India are now emerging as a viable option for converting traditional skill into employable expertise and youths are also coming forward to take traditional culture as their livelihood option. International visits by Indian artisans have facilitated interaction with musicians, art lovers, art critics, researchers and academicians from different countries which has opened up new avenues for them. The overall living condition of the artists' community has started to improve. The revival of the art forms has particularly empowered the women artisans, who are now into a purposeful engagement, possess new strength and employ innovative ideas through their creativity.

Baishali Mukherjee

Former Freelancer

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