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Craft Initiatives in Kutch: Rehabilitation - a Replicable Model


BACKGROUND
As part of the Disaster Management and Emergency Relief Operations in Kutch, post the January 2001 earthquake, CARE India and FICCI adopted 30 villages in three blocks of Anjar, Bhachau & Rapar in Kutch, Gujarat. They were committed to a broad based intervention that included areas such as health, housing, education and sustainable livelihood.

They approached National Intitiute Fashion Technology, New Delhi to develop a comprehensive livelihood package for the artisans affected by earthquake in these areas. Prof. Jatin Bhatt, Head of Accessory Design at NIFT visited the area twice along with Mr. Vipin Sharma, Director, Sead, CARE and his team to evaluate and identify the blocks and villages, based on a number of factors such as accessibility, responsiveness, socio economic climate and available skills and experience of the community. Reality did not always match expectations. Expecting to find over 200 potters in the surrounding villages, it was found the numbers had dwindled to 60-70 artisans, with pottery rapidly disappearing as a craft and means of livelihood.

THE CHOICES
Many individuals and organisations, including NGOs, were working in the areas already had their hands full with enormous commitments in the process of rehabilitation. NIFT set up its site office with fulltime field coordinators and involved Ms. Vijayalaxmi Kotak, who has possibly one of the longest association and experience with Kutch artisans through her Gurjari assignment, to enhance effective community mobilization.

Not wanting to enter a sector where enough work was being done, NIFT consciously chose not to restrict work with embroidery and textiles, inspite of easy access to a large population base practicing the craft as a part of their daily lives. Interestingly, some of Rabaris communities with distinctive style of embroidery, even today travel upto Surat and Balsar to graze their camels over six months in a year. Instead they opted to work in other craft areas of pottery and knife making with some amount of embroidery crafts with the Rabaris and Ahirs.

 

For logistical reasons finally, four villages namely Jharu, Chandrani, Khedoi and Ratnal in the Anjar block each within a reasonable distance from the other and Nana Reha, a village close to Anjar and known for its knife making over a century, were chosen to be the focus of the project.

THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PROGRAMME
What emerged was a concrete plan to involve the artisan at every step in the process of creating and retailing a craft product. Six faculty members along with the active involvement of the technical assistant as well as staff of the Accessory Design Dept. at NIFT committed a period of six months to the project, beginning May 2001.

The NIFT team led by Prof. Jatin Bhatt had Mr. M.S. Farooqi, Mr. V.Ameresh Babu, Mr. Arvind Merchant and Mr. Sanjeev Kumar as the think tank. Equally responsible for field operations they were supported by Mr. Ashuthosh Porus, Junior Faculty and Mr. Abhishek Pratap Singh, student of Accessory Design. The project structure also provided twenty nine senior students to carry out the Design and Product Development component of the project on field for over six weeks in the above mentioned villages.

Prior to this, the NIFT faculty team with artisans from the selected craft sectors developed specific project strategies concerning critical areas of process intervention. The faculty team with was primarily responsible for developing specific brief for students and artisans to ensure meaningful and contextual outcome from this very brief but intensive interaction of six weeks under their direct guidance and supervision.

 

At the first stage of programme implementation, twenty-five artisans from Kutch visited Delhi and surrounding areas for a period two weeks to orient them to urban markets and consumer preferences. As part of their orientation they interacted with other artisans and industries creating similar products with similar raw materials using different techniques and technologies.

THEIR EXPERIENCES
Separate teams worked with the Muslim knife makers of Nana Reha, the Muslim potters of Khedoi and Chandrani and Rabari and Ahir women of Jharu, Ratnal and Chandrani, who did embroidery and patchwork on accessories. These teams were confident about the skill, experience and knowledge of the artisans. What they wanted to introduce was the element of design development as a part of the process based implementation, keeping in mind the community culture and capabilities, the ability to look at a product and develop it according to its specifications. In all cases at the first stage, the artisans were made aware of the concept and importance of consistency including precision in dimensions and measurement.

Involving potters from Uttam Nagar, New Delhi the Anjar potters were introduced to newer, efficient yet low cost technologies, such as kilns. Until then the potter community had used open pits for firing. The use of a kiln enabled the firing to be completed in a much shorter time and greater fuel efficiency and for the first time the potter community shared a kiln and fired continuously for 12 days around Diwali, which they could not otherwise have done, with an open kiln. Ms. Renuka Savasere, a ceramic designer, got very closely involved in net working and sustained interaction with the artisans over four months as a specialist brought on the project by NIFT.

The potters were also introduced to terracotta slip casting techniques and their use, differing methods of clay preparation and improved quality of clay. They also experimented with a different set of aesthetics. For instance, the deliberate creation of perfectly centred pots which were cut into half and joined in a skewed fashion, thereby achieving a more contemporary look for the pots.

 

 


The leverage the artisan possesses is quality and skill. What he needs to know is available technology and information on the whims of the market. This was especially true for the metal workers of Nana Reha, where the entire village is involved in the production of knives such as chakkus or penknives that find their way to different parts of the country.

The metal artisans were taken to Moradabad as an example of where a craft can reach and change the equation for an entire town. Contemporary shapes of blades and handles and different alloys were introduced to the artisans.

Mr. Jogi Panghaal, who has worked extensively in the area of craft intervention, was involved for over four weeks with the interactive design component between students and artisans to have yet another dimension to the design directions being guided by NIFT faculty. Similarly, expertise was sought for issues on skill and knowledge enhancement pertaining to various processes.


Rabari and Ahir women are well known for their exquisite embroidery and patchwork. The designs are intricate and the colours vivid. Working with the NIFT team the artisans realized that they needed to add value to a product, which does not necessarily require more labour and ornamentation. They understand today that embroidery with a single coloured thread may be of more value than a carefully chosen multi coloured pattern or that white embroidery on white cloth or black embroidery on black cloth may actually sell better. That a product from a village could just be in single colour with shade variations, in the urban demand centres.

Replying to a question that the artisan was in effect being used as a pair of skilled hands rather than a creative individual – Jatin Bhatt explained that having exposed the artisan to newer products and preferences, the artisan now has the freedom to create across different aesthetics and actually does so. This is also one of the very few instances where design is invested and applied as a larger, holistic process addressing rehabilitation and community mobilization concerns.


The questions come naturally to the mind what happened after NIFT left? How successful was the intervention? Has it meant more orders and markets? What did the community gain by the whole programme?

In May 2001 the NIFT team was travelling from village to village and artisan area to area. The follow up, in January 2002, saw over 200 artisans gathered in Madhapar exchanging ideas and exploring further possibilities under Design Yatra-2002 over eight days with 30 design students and seven NIFT faculty. CARE India has established a Business Resource Centre for all round management for the next 5 years to support the community and ensure the sustainability of the project.

 


Obviously much needs to be done by the community itself. For instance, who decides who gets the fresh orders– the Sarpanch or the whole village? Will it be done on the basis of the skill of the artisan or by rotation?  Can the community organise itself in such a way that it takes from each what they are best at? Already the change is visible and the community is talking about it.


EMBROIDERY

POTTERY


KNIVES



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