The right to a
livelihood is denied to millions of the world's poorest. Among those living
in abject poverty are artisans in India. Their centuries-old means
of earning a living has been shattered by modernisation and
industrialisation. India's Artisans Status Report states:
Today most of
India's artisans are struggling for survival. Many have given up and moved
away from their traditional occupations. Others cling on desperately not
knowing what else to do or to whom to turn. Their skills, evolved over
thousands of years, are being dissipated and blunted. Their progeny are not
willing or able to carry on the family tradition, and a rich culture is on
the verge of extinction. (Satyanand & Singh, 1995, p.1)
the economic viability of craft communities is important to the
sustainability of artisan livelihoods. This is a matter of survival for
artisans. It is also necessary for the preservation of the world's cultural
diversity. Interventions based on the modernisation paradigm, and its narrow
economic criteria of material progress, are not likely to create viable
craft producing groups. This paper argues that there are other criteria by
which the value of artisan activity can be framed. A more inclusive and
holistic framework, congruent with an emerging paradigm of sustainable rural
development (Shepherd, 1998), has potential to support the dignity and
autonomy of artisans, the continuity of indigenous knowledge and cultural
diversity, and the sustainability of local economies and communities.
crafts sector of the Indian economy is comprised of an estimated twenty-three million
artisans (Dastkar). In terms of employment and contribution to the economy,
this sector is second to agriculture. Many agricultural and pastoral
communities also depend on their traditional crafts as a secondary source of
income in times of drought, lean harvests, floods or famine. For women,
craft is the largest arena of employment, as they use craft to enter the
economic mainstream to become wage-earners (Tyabji,
1999). Between 1961 and 1981 there was a 29% decline in artisan population,
and the number of women working in the artisan sector dropped by 73%. This
trend accompanied a major shift from small scale to large scale industries,
as well as a decline in household sector work and an increase in non-household sector
work (Satyanand & Singh, 1995, p.15).
among those in India who have the lowest social and economic status. Many
are lowest in the caste hierarchy. Exploited by traders and middlemen,
artisans have very little income. Indebtedness is a way of life. According
to some scholars every feature of economics, society, and state was designed
to keep artisans in their place in the scheme of things and strictly limit
their mobility. Lack of education, illiteracy, and restrictive caste
barriers give many artisans a fatalistic acceptance of their low social
"artisan" and "craftsperson" are often used interchangeably and I will
continue this use throughout this paper. The Hindustani word for
craftsperson is "one who works with his (sic)
hands" (Dastkar). This relates to the root meaning of manufacture, "to make
by hand" (Merriam, 1975). The earliest specialists of manufacture made goods
for everyday use such as, baskets, cooking vessels, agricultural implements,
cloth, footwear, and ornaments. They also made sacred objects in accord with
religious beliefs and ritual occasions.
millennia of Indian history, craft production has been a major means of
livelihood. A system of manufacture was based on hereditary skills and forms
of expression, and markets evolved through a traditional patron-client relationship.
Intrinsic to the Indian way of life, craft work was essential to village and
trade economies. By the first century A.D., overland and maritime trade
routes linked India with China, Mesopotamia and Rome. During Moghul rule,
artisanal activity flourished and India exported vast quantities of textiles
to markets throughout the world, attaining industrial supremacy until the
end of the 18th Century.
rule, the traditional Indian manufacturing economy was destroyed by means of
a vast increase in imports of British manufactured goods to India, the
imposition of protective tariffs against Indian exports, a drain of wealth
in the form of raw materials to England, and the emergence of capitalist
modes of production. Millions of artisans were forced into starvation.
Pandit Nehru attributed India's appalling poverty to the British destruction
of India's traditional artisan economy (Bhasin, 1997). Although Gandhian
economics envisioned the continuity of craft as an essential and meaningful
part of the Indian economy based in rural villages, the rulers of modern
India did not take this development perspective seriously. Political and
societal choices favoured modernity over tradition.
Based on the
conviction that artisans, their skills, and their ways of life have social
and economic significance, India's Artisans Status Report was compiled to
provide a sensitive overview of the artisan sector. In defining "artisan,"
the report describes essential characteristics as follows: a person who
makes goods or provides services to others using his or her own skills and
labour. Further, artisan skills are traditional, which means their skills
have been historically associated with a particular artisanal activity even
though these may have been adapted over time to evolving technologies,
materials, and products. Artisans work individually or at the household
level and they are self-employed in
the sense that they enjoy the whole produce of their labour, or the whole
value added to the materials on which their work is based (Satyanand &
report outlines major reasons for the current state of poverty among
artisans, including: (a) disappearing markets, (b) technological
obsolescence, and (c) poor government planning. First of all, there has been
a dramatic shift in consumer choice from artisanal goods to factory made
ones. This has been the result of a number of factors: (a) aggressive
marketing and advertising strategies of the organized industrial sector; (b)
mass production of goods of uniform quality at prices which artisans cannot
easily compete; (c) financial incentives, benefits, and reliefs extended to
the organized industrial sector but ordinarily not available to artisans;
(d) preferential access to credit, raw materials and infrastructure extended
to organized sector but artisans have handicaps such as, a lack of capital
to purchase good quality materials in bulk, scarcity of raw materials, and
absence of infrastructure in the way of work sheds, power, and storage
space; and, (e) preoccupation with urban and export markets which diverts
energies and resources that otherwise could be invested in building up local
and sustainable markets for artisan products.
technological advances have benefitted the factory sector in terms of
efficiency and quality of output, and machines can imitate intricate designs
that once were the exclusive domain of artisans, passed down from generation
to generation. Dependence on capital-intensive
western technologies and lack of investment in indigenous technological
research has resulted in the failure to develop technologies appropriate to
the craft sector.
Third, after 40
years of planned development, government planners remain conceptually
confused about the role of the craft sector in India. Some stress the
importance of keeping the cultural heritage alive. Others emphasize the
employment generation potential of the sector. As a consequence, artisans
have been viewed as part of the welfare sector, propped up by subsidies and
grants, rather than as part of the core economic sector (Satyanand & Singh,
1995). According to Bhrij Bhasin, former director of the Handicraft and
Handloom Export Corporation and the Cottage Industries Emporium of the
Government of India,
A great deal of
lip service is paid by the government in India to crafts production and
development, but official policy is actually active in destroying the
traditional crafts support base. On the one side, there are extremely
powerful forces of industrialism, capitalism, and consumerism and, on the
other side, there is the ruling elite actively welcoming these forces.
Crushed in between is the humble artisan. (Bhasin, 1997 p.2)
enormous diversity among the groups called artisans or craftspeople. India's
Artisan Status Report differentiates eight groups of artisans according to
the kinds of raw materials they work with: metal workers; wood workers;
potters; textile workers; gem polishers and jewelers ; cane, bamboo and
fibre workers; tailors; and leather workers. Each artisanal group is further
differentiated according to the parameters of: location (rural, urban, semi-urban); access
to raw materials (procured independently, supplied by customer or by co-operative); skill
or technology used (manual, semi-automated); purpose
of product (utilitarian, decorative, repair); market site (village, urban,
export); sales channel (market, trader, co-operative), and
employment status (self-employed, wage
earner, co-operative). When
this range of parameters is applied to artisanal activity, there are over
fifteen thousand differently identifiable types of artisans in India (Satyanand
& Singh, 1995) and the need for specificity within particular contexts is
The nature of
materials, skills, products, and employment are central to the above
classification of artisans. This classification is congruent with the use of
the word "crafts" to mean "those activities that deal with the conversion of
specific materials into products, using primarily hand skills with simple
tools and employing the local traditional wisdom of craft processes. Such
activities usually form the core economic activity of a community of people
called craftspeople" (Panchal & Ranjen, 1993, p.7). This definition of
crafts, however, gives emphasis to the application of indigenous knowledge
to the processes of transforming materials into products.
There are also
cultural dimensions and intrinsic meanings associated with being an artisan
or craftsperson. For example, particular features of an artisan's environment--natural, social
and cultural--shape artisan
identities and world views. These in turn influence what an artisan makes
and why he or she makes it. Secondly, knowledge, aesthetic sensitivity, and
imagination are critical attributes which inform the processes by which a
craftsperson works well with tools and materials. Third, meanings both
inspire and emerge from the creative process of making things. The world of
the artisan's work is imbued with meaning. Eliade (1978) writes, "The
imagination discovers unsuspected analogies among different levels of the
real; tools and objects are laden with countless symbolisms, the world of work--the micro
universe that absorbs the artisan's attention for long hours--becomes a
mysterious and sacred centre, rich in meanings" (pp. 34-35).
The domain of
artisan livelihoods encompasses values and sensibilities that are not only
material. I emphasize the primacy of artisan knowledge, as well as material
and non-material requirements
and influences. An artisan is part of a local and extended community of
people with knowledge and ability to make particular objects by hand using
relatively simple tools and equipment. His or her knowledge is developed
over a long period of observation and practice--observation of
a proficient or master craftsperson and practice in refining the variety of
skills required to make a craft item well. An artisan's knowledge
encompasses hand skills, visual and creative thinking, aesthetic
sensibility, and familiarity with craft and design processes and forms.
Having acquired detailed knowledge related to the materials, tools, and
forms and processes of his or her craft, an artisan produces objects that
can have functional, aesthetic, and cultural value. Qualities of
craftsmanship, such as, attention to detail, imagination, innovation, and
refinement distinguish excellent craft work.
The life and
work of artisans exemplify particular ways of knowing and ways of being in
the world. However, to sustain the continuity of their work and means of
livelihood, an artisan requires access to appropriate materials and
information about the kind of products that potential customers need or want
to buy. Craftspeople need to know how best to reach their buyers and how to
ascertain the value of their work and what price to ask. Changes in the
marketplace have direct impact on artisans and influence the perspectives
and attitudes of the communities to which they belong.
at the intersection between indigenous artisan knowledge and global economic
forces at the end of the twentieth century. There is an apparent lack of fit
between the world of the traditional artisan and that of modern urban-based societies.
There is incongruence between indigenous artisan meaning systems and the
operation of modern markets. In terms of quantity and speed of production,
artisan technology and skill cannot compete with industry. However, the
picture changes dramatically if you take the view that "the highest
technical skill is hand skill....the human heart and hand together provide
the highest technology that can ever exist" (Singh, 1997).
A definition of
artisan as producer of goods and services for others underscores the
difficulties for artisans in the context of the modern economy. There is a
swing against small scale village industries and indigenous technologies.
Multinational corporations--favouring macro-industries
and hi-tech mechanized
production, and supported by sophisticated marketing and advertising--have
edged out traditional rural marketing infrastructures. Operating on a small
scale, artisans can't compete. They are exploited by middle men and trapped
in cycles of debt. They are seen to be backward and not getting on with
developing along western lines of progress. Their work is considered
"ethnic" by urban elite. Artisans are often forced to abandon their
traditional occupations, migrate to urban areas in search of a "better
life", and take up unskilled daily wage labour to earn a subsistence
livelihood at wages that are often better than what they can obtain from
viewpoint, based on a more inclusive definition of artisans as people who
have valuable knowledge, skills, and sensibilities, the loss of artisan
livelihoods is not only an economic problem, it is also an erosion of
cultural diversity. With artisans "drowning in global monoculture"
(Stackhouse, 1999), the decline in artisan livelihoods worldwide is a global
as well as local issue. Alarm is being sounded for the loss of ecological
habitats and biodiversity worldwide. A similar alarm needs to resound for
the loss of highly developed craft skills and knowledge, and the ways of
life that are a part of an artisan's work and environment.
argues that old paradigms of development are breaking down and a new
paradigm of sustainable rural development is being formed. Conventional
development, a part of the modernisation paradigm, is guided by notions of
material progress--growth of
income and wealth, and poverty alleviation. Despite promises of prosperity,
development schemes based on the goals of materially wealthy western
societies have failed on a number of counts. They have failed to benefit the
poor. Instead, the poor are victims of development projects that have
destroyed land and resources, displaced traditional occupations, and ruined
local economies. Particularly in rural areas, the poor have been
marginalized by the development path taken by their societies. They have
been devastated by the environmental degradation and social deteriorization
that has come in the wake of development projects (Sainaith, 1996, and
livelihood is commonly defined in economic terms as the minimum necessary to
support life, or the means of subsistence to obtain the necessities of life.
This definition is congruent with material values of the modernisation
paradigm, but inadequate to account for non-material values
that are integral to traditional livelihoods. The language of sustainable
development gives new meaning to the word livelihood, more aligned with the
concerns of artisans.
development refers to improvement in livelihoods which does not undermine
the livelihoods of future generations (environmental sustainability) (WCED,
1997) and can be sustained over time (institutional sustainability).
Livelihoods refer to much more than just income and wealth: quality of life
and of society, security, and dignity might be just as important to those
whose livelihoods need improving. (Shepherd, 1998, p.3)
In the context
of economic and cultural globalization, can the craft sector be reframed
within the emerging paradigm of sustainable rural development to protect
local livelihoods and environments? Can artisans procure a sustainable
livelihood by means of their craft skills and knowledge? The inadequacy of
the modernisation paradigm to address the concerns of artisans necessitates
a more congruent framework of analysis and criteria of progress to address
the challenges of improving economic viability of craft communities.
Sustainable rural development represents a shift from an industrial approach
to technology development "to an organic or holistic approach, with
sustainable improvement replacing profit as the implicit objective"
(Shepherd, 1998, p. 10). The values and processes of sustainable rural
development provide a relevant framework for formulating appropriate
responses to challenges of improving artisan livelihoods. In the following I
focus on four key issues: (a) local economy; (b) dignity and autonomy; (c)
participation; and (c) learning.
There is a
growing awareness that solutions to complex problems among the rural poor
may be found in small scale, local economic activity, with the use of low
levels of technology and application of indigenous knowledge and skills.
There is a movement towards local production for local consumption,
reclaiming the economy in the service of people and communities.
Microenterprise and village-level savings
and credit associations create opportunities for the poor to increase their
survival chances and economic security.
The craft sector
has been tragically neglected. However, there is an increasing emphasis on
redefining craft as an economic and development activity. With enormous
resources of fine skills and technical knowledge, the craft sector
represents an opportunity for employment for vast numbers of people who are
otherwise involved in agricultural activities; and for some people, craft
represents their only source of sustenance. Numerous development
interventions use craft as a means of income generation. Craft is seen to be
a catalyst for economic and social revitalization of fragmented and
marginalized communities. Craft can also be an important entry point for
aspects of development such as, education, health, community building,
women's emancipation, and the discarding of social prejudices (Tyabji,
development interventions confront unique problems and challenges. In order
for the craft sector to develop as a means to sustainable employment,
intervening agencies need a working knowledge of design, product
development, and marketing. Often NGOs and development agencies view craft
as an income generation tool but they do not understand the problems of
craft production and sales. Dastkar, an organization founded in 1981 and
based in Delhi, works with 65 craft-producing groups
throughout India to improve the economic status of artisans and promote the
survival of traditional crafts. They provide input in terms of craft
productivity and sales to help traditional artisans and low income craft
groups to bridge the gap between rural producers and urban consumers.
Dastkar's programmes include: skills upgrading, credit, raw materials,
product design and development, management training, and marketing support (Dastkar).
On the other
hand, designers who work in craft development must be aware of the diversity
of craft traditions and the problems and capacities of particular artisan
groups. They need to be able to sensitively interpret a craftsperson's
tradition and design products that adapt traditional skills to suit
contemporary tastes and needs. It is important that craft design and
marketing interventions are not alien or in conflict with the artisans'
social, aesthetic, and cultural roots. In their work with craftspeople,
Dastkar tries to create relationships of mutual understanding and trust,
rather than imposing solutions from above.
can be exchanged for money and they are expressions of a cultural heritage,
but what is alive is the skill of the artisan who makes the objects.
Increasingly, craft development organizations that aim to help artisans
attain economic self-sufficiency
put the artisan at the centre of
the process. They focus on the artisan as a human being with basic needs and
rights and as a skilled worker who has abilities to make beautiful and
useful objects. This represents a shift in emphasis from the craft product,
and it's role in the Indian economy, to the artisans themselves who have a
significant role to play in finding solutions to their problems. Where the
making of craft is a matter of survival, the objective is to help artisans
survive with dignity.
freedom, dignity, and peace--intangibles that
have been neglected in the modernisation approach to development, are
integral to the sustainability paradigm (Shepherd, 1998). These are
essential qualities that enable people to feel secure enough to take control
of their means of livelihood and to make choices about their future.
Artisans who benefit from craft development initiatives gain self-respect and
confidence that their own abilities can make a difference to the quality of
their lives (See Jongeward, 1999a and Tyabji, 1999).
One of the
implications of putting artisans at the centre of craft development
interventions is the need to involve artisans in processes of change that
effect what they make, how they work together, and the life of their
communities. The importance of participation in development processes is
increasingly recognized. This indicates a change in perspective about who's
needs are first and what's important. In practice, encouraging participation
means making spaces for the poor and marginalized to express their needs and
concerns. It also means encouraging their involvement in decision-making and
fostering a sense of responsibility for their own affairs.
on developing cohesive craft communities. The process of group formation and
creating awareness and responsibility is a gradual process that can take
longer than the process of designing and production, but Dastkar recognizes
the importance of participation, especially for empowering women. They have
seen how artisans gain confidence through participation, planning, and
organizing local activities themselves.
There has been a
search for alternative forms of development that promote learning and
innovation rather than blueprint and top-down styles
of development projects. Shepherd (1998) says, "If an agency is seeking to
advance participation of the rural poor, it must develop the capacity to
learn from its experience, and from the wider environment in which it
operates. Similarly the rural poor themselves will learn from experience"
(p. 138). When rural development takes place as a learning process,
research, analysis, reflection, and evaluation become central thinking
activities. Also, participatory reflection and analysis become integral to
the design, implementation, and evaluation of activities. Learning is
emphasized among all those involved in the transformation process of
for craft development have a critical role in the development of new
products and markets for artisans but they also have a role in fostering
learning among participants and beneficiaries (Jongeward 1999b). Artisans
themselves are learners when they are trained to use new tools or equipment
or to make new products. They can learn every aspect of design and
production in order to adapt their own artistic knowledge and understand the
function of new products. Learning to work together involves learning to
feel secure enough to trust one another and take the risks of trying out new
things to do and ways to think. Given opportunities to learn about
designing, problem solving, and managing, new leaders and innovators can
emerge within community-based organizations.
organizations are strengthened when they emphasize a learning orientation. A
striking example is the Bangalore based Foundation for Advancement of Craft
Enterprise and Skills (FACES) which was started in 1996. FACES adopted an
open learning systems approach in their efforts to foster the craft
community, develop the quality of craft, create equity for the tradition,
and trigger entrepreneurship in the community. FACES asks a number of
difficult questions about how the values, meaning frames, and identities of
artisans can be preserved even as they become integrated into the modern
market and society.
craft interventions are not usually seen as community work, FACES is
concerned about the need to sensitize professionals to do community work. To
this end they appoint community facilitators, people who have previous
experience in design and marketing, to stay in the craft villages for three
years in order to gain knowledge of the socio-cultural
context of the artisans and the communities' approach to their crafts. The
community facilitators learn to lead community discussions, identify needs
for technological upgrading (eg. modifying the existing loom), encourage
artisans to experiment with designs and come up with a diversified range of
products; and, facilitate teamwork so craftspeople can meet large orders and
achieve self-sufficiency. FACES
has also developed the "home bazaar" as a means for artisans to learn about
marketing their work in cities, and also for urban customers to learn more
about the artisans and their craft (Raghav, 1999).
In order to
understand the complexity of the craft sector, and gain a rich picture of
interactions among different systems that impinge on the viability of
artisan livelihoods, craft organizations can use an holistic framework of
analysis. To date, there is little precedent in terms of theory or practice
related to the use of holistic approaches for interventions in craft
used systems thinking in order to gain insight into the patterns and
influences within the larger context of the craft production system. By
mapping the systemic context of their intervention, FACES identified
leverage points for future action to improve the overall health of the craft
system (Raghav, 1999).
not only survive but also have the freedom to choose craft as a viable
option to do so? Will they want their sons and daughters to learn their
traditional crafts and use this knowledge as a means of livelihood? Far-reaching social,
economic, cultural and environmental changes have reduced the chances for
artisans to earn a subsistence wage, and even more so their chance to
utilize their traditional knowledge and skills. The right to a livelihood is
a stake for millions of artisans worldwide. Also at stake is the continuity
of cultural diversity which is supported by active artisan groups.
efforts of many individuals and organizations will be needed to make a
positive impact on the economic viability of craft communities and the
continuity of artisan knowledge and skills. There needs to be greater
understanding and appreciation of artisan knowledge, forms of expression,
and ways of life. At the same time, the presence of a market which can
absorb the products of their labour is essential. Further research will help
to show how holistic approaches to craft development can sustain artisan
livelihoods by creating viable local economies, ensuring the dignity and
autonomy of artisans, and preserving the value of cultural diversity for the
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