After tasting success at digitally empowering the Chanderi weaving cluster through its Chanderiyaan project, DEF initiated DigiKala in 2014 as an integrated programme to digitally empower more such weaving clusters in India. The programme has now gone to scale and has become an umbrella brand under which five specific weaving clusters are being digitally empowered in partnership with specific companies who are supporting through CSR. DEF has started work at the Brabanki zardozi weaving cluster with support from Ericsson India. It will soon start work in four other such clusters – Nuapatna and Barpali in Odisha supported by Microsoft, the Trichy handloom cluster in Tamil Nadu supported by Mphasis; and the Narayanpet cluster in Telengana supported by ISOC (Internet Society). In Barabanki district, DEF is setting up a digital skilling and design centre at a 100-year old heritage site at Saidanpur, a remote village, 28 Kms from district headquarters Barabanki and 58 Kms from state capital Lucknow. DEF is restoring the site scheduled for inauguration in January, 2016.
DigiKala has been conceived as a generic brand name for DEF’s Digital Cluster Development Programme (DCDP). In some sense, Barabanki is the second specific project that is being taken up under this programme, which comes under the more generic Markets & Enterprise programmatic area of DEF, with Chanderiayaan being the first such project.
The Chanderiyaan project in partnership with Media Labs Asia, the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology and Internet Society served as pilot project which has provided proof of concept about the transformative power of digital intervention in India’s handloom and handicraft clusters.
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 woodcraft industries. Out of these, there are 470 handloom clusters in India employing about 65 lakh people — the second largest employment sector after agriculture. Most of those working in the sector are, however, suffering from rampant exploitation by middlemen, poor living conditions, extremely low wages and inaccessibility to direct markets.
Thanks to this pathetic condition, we are witnessing what is often referred to as the “vanishing” crafts of India resulting from the younger generation refusing to take up the traditional family craft.
Chanderi has proved digital intervention can change all that.
The younger generation has stopped migrating from their traditional family skill of weaving the world famous Chanderi sarees and apparels. Most of the 4,500 weaver families have tripled their monthly incomes. Now they also have an online retail store to directly market their produce in both the national and global markets. There is today a digitally skilled person in almost every single household in Chanderi.
It is a revolution that needs to be seen to be believed.
The story of the Barabanki weavers in Uttar Pradesh specializing in zari and applique cut-work on sarees, scarves and shawls, among other products, is almost exactly similar. Barabanki and its adjoining area is home to around 50,000 weavers and 20,000 looms. Most of these weavers have not completed school, and live in joint families where almost every member is involved in
the weaving process. Thanks to exploitation by middlemen and master weavers, their average monthly income is often less than Rs 3,000 per month.
The DigiKala project in Barabanki is expected to change all that. The project will seek to impart digital skills to weavers, help them set up a digital design library that would in turn enable them to come out of the grip of Master weavers and Master Designers and also increase their productivity and monthly incomes by reduction in what is called “Baithak” time or “sitting idle” time, train them in entrepreneurial skills and English language skills apart from opening up opportunities for higher levels of education through distant learning programmes and other online skill enhancement programmes and lastly but perhaps, most importantly, empower them to set up their own online retail store and thereby break the vice-like grip of middlemen on their livelihoods and monthly incomes.
To take forward the project, freelance architect Shefali Nayak and DEF team member Udita Chaturvedi visited Saidanpur from December 16 to 20, 2015, to initiate renovation of the project site. The heritage building is partially in ruins and DEF is trying to achieve a complete restoration and renovation of the heritage site.
In the first phase of renovation (until the official inauguration in January 2016), the following work has been taken up:
- Restoring, conserving and renovating two existing rooms
- Arches at the entrance are being restored
- Land will be cleared of wild grass and any extra plantation
- A pavement leading from the entrance to the two rooms that will house the centre for the moment is being created keeping in mind access to the physically challenged
- Visually aesthetic landscaping of the area is being done
- Electric fittings together with computer hardware and software, digital design facility together with a digital design library and other infrastructure will be put in place.
Once the DigiKala digital resource centre is ready, DEF will start with digital literacy for children and adults in the village, and digital designing classes for handloom weavers.