When the 2001 tremblor wrecked the Kachchh region of Gujarat throwing many into abysmal poverty, Khamir was formed to preserve and protect the rich crafts and industries of the region. An acronym for Kachchh Heritage Art Music Information and Resources, Khamir, meaning intrinsic pride in the Kachchhi local language, has since given the much-needed healing touch and impetus to crafts like printed and woven textiles along with leather and metal products as also other hard material crafts. Ghatit Laheru, Director, Khamir says they strive to create a democratic empowering space for vibrant, sustainable Indian craft where artisans are valued globally.
How has the lockdown and pandemic affected the artisans and what has Khamir done to improve their status?
The impact of Corona pandemic became visible in Kachchh from the end of February 2020. Tourism was seriously hit as tours got cancelled and this impacted the artisans too. The situation aggravated further by mid-March as local travel was also affected. Many buyers and designers cancelled their visits. Craft organisations active in the area minimised their field visits.
The movement of finished goods was halted and many of them faced difficulty in shipping their completed orders. Most of the manufacturers were forced to stop production and most buyers cancelled the orders once the countrywide lockdown was announced on March 24, 2020.
How do you see the future of these artisans after the pandemic? What are the main problems facing these artisans?
The craft sector is the largest employer after agriculture in India. The artisan’s way of life is a critical lesson on sustainability and prudent usage of resources. The global pandemic is a serious challenge for artisans as the market has dried up, there is slow movement of goods, change in priority of customers, and low demand. This is severely impacting crafts and craft production. The export markets are going to be down and there will be no tourism at least till next year. Similarly, there will be challenges related to supply of raw materials and finished goods.
However, crafts and artisan groups connected to local or urban markets are going to recover faster. This also brings in new direction towards local markets and change in form of design, product and markets to make it more suitable to the local markets. Creating sustainable markets to provide continuous livelihood to the artisans is going to remain a key challenge and therefore an area of action for all of us. The artisans are also encouraged to explore new mediums of online sale, video conferencing etc to reposition their crafts in new market scenarios. The main problem at present is the market and availability of raw materials. The physical markets are non-existent, so they need to shift to online marketplaces, which is difficult for an unorganised sector.
Could you elaborate on the problems faced craft wise?
Kachchh, commonly known as Kutch and the largest district in the country, is a potpourri of crafts and culture witness as it has been to migrations from Rajasthan, Sindh, Afghanistan and Iran. Textile crafts contribute almost 85 per cent in total revenues of craft production. As mentioned earlier, most of the artisans had to stop work because of cancelled or halted orders, no material supply and uncertainty in the markets. A craft like rogan, which is completely dependent on tourism, was severely impacted. Ancillary workers dependent on these crafts like the bandhej artisans were perhaps the most affected as they were not getting work from the entrepreneurs. Similarly, block makers, printing artisans etc are still without work and regular payments. Some artisans associated with block printing and handloom weaving managed to continue work at a slow pace till the raw materials and dyes were available.
Raw material supply chains are not in place now and will continue to be disrupted for the next few months as the power loom centres across India are facing issues of labour. This will also affect the textile crafts of Kachchh. Textile artisans who are dependent on exhibitions, craft fairs and tourist markets will have to wait for a long time as compared to those dependent on the urban markets in the metros and tier two cities.
Where are the products sold and what is the turnover of the weavers, printers, dyers, embroiderers of Khamir?
The products are sold in urban cities.?
The average monthly income of the embroidery artisan is between ?10,000 to ?15,000. Hand spinners earn between ?1,000 to ?5,000.
How is the production controlled and what is the turnover?
There are no standard production controlling methods as this is an unorganised sector and follow decentralised production norms.
Are any of the products exported?
They are exported worldwide to the US, UK, rest of Europe, UAE, Australia etc. Europe and the US are major buyers.
How many artisans are now following the heritage crafts? Does the younger generation prefer to go for better prospects? What is the type of competition that these artisans face in the country?
More than 5,000 artisans are following the heritage crafts. Not in all textile crafts, but in many hard material and languishing crafts the younger generation prefers to go out for better prospects. A lot depends on the artisan families. The artisans do face competition with poor machine-made items and cheap imitations.
This interview was first published in the August 2021 edition of the print magazine.
Published on: 13/08/2021
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