India’s craft traditions and skills, passed on from generation to generation, are not just an important part of its cultural identity but a crucial means of sustenance for numerous communities. As per unofficial figures, there are about 20 crore artisans who form the backbone of India’s non-farm rural economy. Keeping this in mind, DEF in partnership with mPhasis has initiated a project in Tiruchirappalli that primarily involves inclusive and decentralised use of ICT and other digital tools. The project aims to bring a ray of hope for Trichy’s weavers, as DEF Founder-Director Osama Manzar says.
The ICT-led interventions will be in critical aspects of cluster development, especially improving and scaling up weaving skills, designs, marketing and entrepreneurship, besides creating sustainable livelihood options for the youth in the clusters. The development focus of the model allows us to integrate both the social and economic capital needs of the targeted artisan communities towards inclusive growth.
The Trichy project is inspired by success and promises that DEF has seen in its other clusters — adopted by it under its Digital Cluster Development Programme — in Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh; Barpali and Nuapatna in Odisha; Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh; and Kaithoon in Rajasthan.
The need for such interventions arises from the fact that, in India, there are more than 2000 traditional skill-based clusters covering various skills from textile designing, handicrafts, and glass, leather and brass goods to wooden industries. Out of 2000, there are 470 handloom clusters in India. According to the National Handloom Census 2012-2013, the sector is providing employment to about 65 lakh people in the country — the second largest employment sector after agriculture.
However, most of those working in the sector are suffering from exploitation, poor living conditions, extremely low wages and inaccessibility to direct market. The handloom-based clusters are unable to sustain their livelihoods, enterprise due to its very nature of being unorganized and dispersed structure, lack of education, lack of inadequate working capital, inadequate infrastructure, poor institutional framework and absolute disassociation from modern technologies including digital and Information & Communication Technologies.
Hence, reluctance of younger generation to engage in their traditional arts and handicrafts is causing its rapid decline. Involving and engaging youth from the community is, thus, not only an integral part of the process of reviving traditional craft but also of ensuring that it sustains as a viable employment or entrepreneurial option.