If there is a less privileged section of the society that needs the least support to convert the Covid-19 pandemic challenge into an opportunity, it is that of craftspersons or artisans.
Artisans, who are like the backbone of the non-farm rural Indian economy, number 70 lakh and come mostly from weaker sections and women, according to official figures. Other sources estimate them to be up to 20 crore.
Under Atmanirbhar Bharat with its focus on vocal for local and products to be made in India and their promotion, the Ministry of Textiles has launched an initiative to set up an e-commerce platform for artisans. The Ministry has tied up with India Post to leverage 4,00,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs), which have been primarily set up to offer government e-services in areas with limited availability of internet and computers, to enable artisan go online with their products and become competitive. To begin 100 clusters of artisan have been selected and mapped with CSCs to create awareness amongst artisans and build their capacities for going online.
Tribal Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (TRIFED), which is a national level cooperative body under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, too held online its annual flagship event Aadi Mahotsav, displaying crafts and natural products on Tribes India Marketplace website. Tribes India e-marketplace claims to connect 5 lakh tribal producers/ artisans from across the country to promote their products.
Businesses, too, are tapping into the online opportunity that the artisan world offers. The biggest e-commerce company in India, Amazon India, hosted a virtual handicrafts mela recently, showcasing more than 270 art and craft forms from eight lakh artisans and weavers from various parts of the country. The e-commerce company’s initiative Karigar endeavours to promote Indian handicrafts online.
A leading retail company, Reliance Retail, too offered 40,000 artisan-crafted products recently. The company claims to engage 30,000 craftsmen with expertise in 600 art forms ranging from clothing, textiles, handicrafts to handmade natural goods listed with Geographical Indication (GI).
Apart from big businesses, similar initiatives have been undertaken by small crafts-focused organisations as well as individual patrons of crafts in India.
It is heartening to come across a long list of such initiatives. It would be useful to link these dots for scale to make a positive impact on the lives and livelihood of artisans dispersed all over the country as well as contribute to the national economy. It would also help in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been agreed upon by 193 countries to improve the world by 2030, particularly SDG 8 to promote decent work and economic growth, and SDG 10 to reduce inequalities.
To begin with the government should engage with key stakeholders to set up an effective apex advisory body, which would replace the recently abolished All India Handloom Board and All India Handicrafts Board, to serve as an interface between artisans, markets and government. The apex body should be tasked with making policy inputs for creating an enabling ecosystem, beginning with generation of credible and latest data.
Artisans should be enabled to avail collateral free credit, as provided for under Atmanirbhar Bharat. Capacities of craftspersons should be built to enable them to marry traditional skills with contemporary designs. Extensive documentation should be undertaken for preservation of traditional knowledge.
Certification of genuine products with a label like Craftmark issued by the All India Artisans and Craftworkers Welfare Association (AIACA) should be encouraged.
While better informed artisans are going online to survive in this coronavirus infested world, underprivileged artisans need help to link up with e-commerce platforms. Online linkages should be complemented with brick and mortar initiatives by setting up craft markets all over the country.
The coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for the country to invest in creating an enabling ecosystem for the less privileged artisans to move them out of poverty and hunger in a win-win situation for them as well as the Indian economy.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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