Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A Case for the Revival of the Indian Crafts Sector

Multiplying big brands from all over the world with marginal migrants lined up in the corner of the streets, Connaught Place is a hub of two contradicting realities. In the midst of the concrete structures that stand testimony to commercial capitalism, there are splashes of ethnic crafts. Right across the busy market of Janpath, I met Sarasvati. Soaked in sweat and glaring at my camera, I could gather that this was not the first time she was being clicked. She sat with a pile of golden fabric that her husband had collected from her village in Gujarat and she came to the city expecting a good bargain. And it is these contradictions that pose some central questions. What has been the government’s post-independence stance on industrialisation? Have the forces of competition and mass production unleashed by globalisation caused much harm to the culture and crafts sector than do good to India?
Liberalisation policies meant an end to the “License Raj”- the government loosened its protectionism over the micro industries and it marked a shift from crafts production to mass production. Late 1960’s saw “green revolution”, which was the exogenous push from the government which led to prosperity on both ends. Indian economy was liberalised in 1991, and an absence of a national policy or an agenda for the crafts sector reduced it to a secluded sector in India’s path to development.
The Handicrafts sector holds great promise, in terms of export potential and income and employment generation. It is estimated that crafts sector alone can employ 25 percent of country’s population. According to the Tenth Plan sub group report, the sector contributed around 25 percent to the GDP of the manufacturing sector. The carpet industry in India is the largest exporter in the world in terms of volume. Interestingly, around 50 percent of those employed in the sector are women.
The potential of the Indian craftsmen has not been fully tapped. Indian crafts industry has been sub-optimally employed, and the contribution of Indian handicrafts to the world exports is merely two percent. The multiplicity of middlemen has rendered the supply chain complex. Weaver’s suicides in various states, specifically Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, highlight the need for immediate government response towards tapping the sector’s immense potential.
The government, NGO’s and cultural as well as social entrepreneurs have a long way to go to revive the sector. A major issue is that of cluster identification. Since the sector is majorly unorganised, the data to categorise the clusters (as defined by the MSME industry) is unavailable and no clear methodology is formulated.
The silver lining is that there have been legislations and continuing efforts to secure and expand the rights of the craftsmen effectively. The Copyright Amendment Bill 2012, which entitles lifelong royalty to artistes and not producers, has been a step in the right direction to protect the rights of those in the creative sector. In order to give effective protection to Traditional Knowledge (TK) and Traditional Cultural Expression (TCE), the Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources (IGC) has been working to develop a legal mechanism under which they will be recognised as intellectual property. This would be a landmark move as it will establish ownership of communities inheriting particular arts, crafts, medicine, designs and motifs and protect any kind of misappropriation by others.
Can India not have its own model of development, as unique as its culture?
Fair trade is an internationally recognised labelling system monitored by German-based Fairtrade International, which offers farmers in developing nations, who comply with certain social and environmental standards, higher than the market prices for their products in international markets. The label serves the two way purpose- ensuring the buyer of the quality of the product as well as ensuring better prices to the primary producers. Indian farmers have been a part of the European fair trade from past twenty years.
In an interesting turn of events, the Indian farmers have launched the Fairtrade Foundation India, a strategy working in Brazil, which aims to capture domestic market in similar manner. Application of a fair trade model to the crafts sector, with a central labelling/certification agency could prove instrumental in setting up permanent structures for the sector’s revival.
Drawing heavily from writings of Marx, Joseph Schumpeter gave the concept of “creative destruction”, standing for the hypothesis that “capitalist economic development arises out of the destruction of some prior economic order” and paves the way for a new one. The fall of Indian handicrafts post technocratic mass production meant the fall of an original economic order. Revival of the crafts sector is imperative, to acknowledge and protect the efforts of the “skilled hands”, like Sarasvati’s, which made India incredible.
Mahima Malik

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