When Tradition meets the market
The Craft shop in 1975 becomes Hatheli in 1992
The arid landscape of Rajasthan is dotted with a great variety of colours, in people’s attire, their jewellery and in the intricate details of what they make to wear and use. Rajasthan evokes colour and its most extraordinary juxtapositions and blends. Whether in the clothes, or in embroidery on leather, accessories, bed linen, or in the pottery.
Income generation through crafts
In 1975, the under-employment in the villages in Rajasthan forced much of the rural population to migrate to the cities as construction workers. While largely an agricultural area, Tilonia’s hinterland in Ajmer Districthas numbers of artisans engaged in various crafts. But due to a flagging local market, these skills were dying. The Barefoot College began promoting rural handicrafts in 1975, to both prevent the craft from dying and for the survival of craftspeople. It was difficult for Crafts persons (dastakar), who mainly belong to Dalit and minority communities,to address both their social and economic problems. Working with them was a priority for Tilonia.
Identifying traditional leather workers, weavers, and handicrafts began a long journey. While leather and weaving involved upgrading and diversifying existing skills, handicrafts involved training women’s groups in different skills. Traditional crafts persons were freed from bondage (lending by traditional money lenders) and breaking traditions by using institutional finance. While weaving lost its caste taboos with the entrance of the handloom, new market relationships involved experimenting with technology and design.
With leather, the stench from bag tanning was used as rationalization for continuing with untouchability.
The “Regars”, traditional leather workers, finally settled for buying EI tanned hide from Ajmer, Agra, Kanpur and Ahmedabad. Designs were changed. A whole range of designers came and went, building the archives with the rural crafts persons.
They learnt both about the process of design and catering to a new market. This new aesthetic proved marketable and was sustained by the enthusiasm of the urban buyer and later by young people wanting to learn about their traditions and contribute to the common heritage. The leather workers, now independent producers, have found their markets and, like the Harmara leather workers, have an abundance of orders. Their work and finish has reached market standards.
Hatheli crafts in Tilonia is women centric. Appique, Handicrafts Garments and sewing are acquired skills: traditional tailoring was restricted to a caste. The beautiful block prints, appliqué, thread work, bandhej ( tie and dye) and now hand woven fabric from our in-house looms and also from other co-operatives have become the basic material for women’s, men’s and children’s garments.
We are connected with 5 districts and 48 villages of Rajasthan with a diverse group of artisans across community lines employing 250 artisans out of which around 235 are women who have been trained in various crafts.The number of crafts persons working now with Tilonia does not reflect all those trained or those who have benefited from the process.
There is a distinct and palpable change for the better, in the lives of the craft persons who continue to use combination of design, finance and marketing. Women however continue to be unskilled in marketing. They come either from working class or Dalit groups where no handicraft skill exists, or from socially oppressed groups in purdah like the Rajputs and the Muslims. In associating with Tilonia’s craft work, the women have acquired craft skills, enough to earn supplementary incomes. They have been encouraged to understand banks deposits, acquire a minimum functional literary, the functioning of their local panchayats and understanding issues of health.
The concept of a ‘bazaar’
The story began in 1975 in Delhi, with the first Bazaar in the Triveni Kala Sangham, encouraged by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Pupul Jayakar , Shona Ray and many others, It the beginnings of establishing craft as a part of people’s development. Tilonia Bazaar was one of the first concepts through which rural crafts found a way to connect to the urban India and the market. Now the ‘Bazaar’/haat is a popular a concept, like Dastakaar, enabling lakhs of crafts persons to find alternative markets in India. Jatin Das the well known painter drew a poster for the Tilonia Bazaar.
Hatheli is an independent registered society and has managed to invest its resources in building an economic stability for the craftspersons and women. It has a reputation for working with worker management and expertise on the job, carrying the barefoot approach into the production and marketing of handicrafts. The income from its sales is reinvested into capital for the continuation of the process and also for supporting some activities on campus.