In poll bound Rajasthan, government and political leaders are ignoring artisans
Rajasthan’s Dabu print is famous throughout the country but the people who make them say politicians ignore their demands, even during elections.
The third-generation craftsman understands all aspects of printing natural dyes on fabric using a method called Dabu — where wooden blocks are used to imprint designs on saris and dress material. Some 5,000 men and women — all belonging to the OBC Chhipa community — in the town are involved in the printing craft. Almost all homes have sheds with wooden printing tables and large containers for dyeing.
Bagru designs are famous throughout the country. Yet, say the practitioners, the government has ignored them so far.
Rajasthan is famous for iconic crafts such as furniture, leatherwork and jewellery. Almost every city in the state is a hub for some craft form. This unique branding has helped the state gain national and international attention. These crafts also provide employment to thousands of women and men. There are 7,20,573 workers in such household industries across the state, according to the 2011 Census.
Artisans say some support from the government can go a long way in helping them monetise their work better. Even the hectic campaigning for the December 7 assembly elections seems to have ignored them.
“Government representatives and political leaders never reach out to us. They don’t come here even before elections,” says Mohammed Firoze, 32, a printer who learnt the craft from his father. Firoze earns `10,000-12,000 a month. He takes only a day off every month. Despite his best efforts, he is feeling the financial pinch to feed his wife and five young children.
Forget improving the infrastructure, says Chhipa, even basic amenities are sometimes difficult to come by. “Our water requirement is very high at over 30 litres a day. But we have an acute water shortage in this region. Sometimes there is no supply at all.”
Water shortage is not the only problem these people face. “Many crafts from Rajasthan, including ours, have the geographical indicator (GI) tag. But we have not been given a handicrafts mark,” says Chhipa.
A GI tag is an internationally accepted indication that a product has a specific geographical origin and qualities or reputation due to that origin. A handicrafts mark is given by the government as a certificate of quality and authenticity. It helps artisans price products better. So far, the government has given the mark only to handloom products.
“Even exclusive crafts hubs like Dilli Haat have become commercialised with no space for actual artisans like us,” says Chhipa, whose company, RK Derawala, supplies over 80% of their products to Fabindia, an ethnic products retailer, and a few other companies such as online ethnic products platform Jaypore.
The Congress candidate and former MLA for the Bagru constituency, Ganga Devi, is proud of the traditional craft from her region. She can be often seen in a hand-printed sarees made by the local artisans and she has even gifted some Bagru saris to former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. But she is dismissive of the problems faced by the artisans in her constituency. “They are very famous and have won national awards. They don’t really have any big problems.”
Kailash Chand Verma, the BJP MLA, too is dismissive of their issues.
Lal Chand Derawala, who owns a block printing unit, disagrees with Devi. “The state government hasn’t done much to help us. Despite using only organic dyes and colours and employing natural printing processes, we are still clubbed with other polluting units. We lose out on a lot of subsidies and benefits because of this.”
Younger people who are internet-savvy have been able to overcome at least one problem — they use social media to reach buyers. “I take orders from my customers, usually women and some boutique owners, via Facebook and WhatsApp. They pay me online and then I despatch the goods through courier services,” says Rinku Dosaya, 35.
Vikas Chhipa, 23, also uses various apps to sell. His family firm, Ashoka Printers, though, still depends on wholesale business. Reliance Retail is one of its biggest clients.
The state and central governments have done little towards skill development of artisans, says Leela Bordia, who in 1978 started Neerja International Inc to revive the traditional blue pottery of Jaipur. “No elections have had any impact on the craftsmen. Absolutely no effort is taken to help these people,” says Bordia who helped to put Jaipur blue pottery on the global map through product innovation and research and development.
The company is now beefing up its online sales in a big way. “Online sales have become our strength, especially in the overseas market,” says Nupur Bordia, Leela’s daughter-in-law, who handles marketing and communications.
While the internet can help these artisans overcome some problems, a little push from the government can go a long way in improving their lives.