Craft tour -Karnataka villages- by Saji
For the past many months, I have been feelings to be more active in some constructive activities for myself to get engaged. While my own past experience exposed me to the issues of traditional sectors, it is my research work on tourism and craft that started a new infusion of thoughts in me to look in to the issues related with traditional sector like, khadi, hand loom and handicrafts etc. Now this a week long tour organised by Weavers’ Wheel to me is a beginner’s session to understand a wide range of issues related with it which I still struggle to understand in its actual depth.
We started our tour on 02nd march with a visit Charaka in Sagar.
Listening the discussion between Chandra and Charaka’ s founder (Prasanna) in the first day continued to influence my observation and analysis in the later part of the tour. In way Charaka’s approaches became a base for me for all comparison and analysis of other initiatives which I visited later. I feel it was so perfect that we started our tour from that weavers community, which has so much to offer for people who looking forward for a appropriate approach to promotion of Khadi or hand looms or any other similar sectors.
There are so many unique approaches I found in Charaka as an institutional and in Prasanna as a visionary individual. Charaka is the outcome of the search for means of social action for the development of the women folk in the area. I have the impression that the founders have able to carefully plan their action with a perfectly woven institutional framework.
They did a right marketing approach that they focus on reaching the end users of their products especially the middle class families (hope that also means the poor people). This not only makes sense from the economics point of view (with India have a large pool people in this category) but also from the basic ethics of Khadi and hand loom, which needs to be revitalized as a products of common man (read as women also). Perhaps that is a biggest challenge for the promoters of Khadi (and in all other traditional sectors) – to deconstruct the wrong perception of the people on these products before acting upon revitalize that value into the people. For long these sectors are caught up in the ‘historical locks’, the institutions and programes targeted to promote Khadi and handlooms etc, have only compounded the complexities instead of breaking this lock. In that sense Charaka’s attempt – through the shop in Bangalore Desi – to target the common man for their products need to be applauded.
During the discussion Prasanna mentioned that if they wanted target another set of market segment (like wholesales) then there is an equal action needed in the production bases. This is something which many of the institutions that are working on the sector needs to be understood well for avoiding confusions in the later stage. Charaka’s production and marketing activities are clearly bifurcated, which looks to me the best part of their institutional framework. The success of their venture lies in this framework. Though the activities are separately carried out, their existence under a single vision helps to avoid any unnecessary pressure on each other activities. If Charaka plans to source out the marketing activities to external agency, then this relation may not necessarily be exist in that new relation, which may then lead some market led pressure on the production side. I am sure Charaka already has that understanding to act appropriately to deal that situation if they come across.
Another important aspect that I observed is of their focus on their strength in their existing product range. They are extracting natural colour from areca nut for a arrange of brownish colours that is dominant in their colour range. Though they are exploring other colours, they found their real strength in the brown dye due to the abundant availability of areca nut in the region. The naturally dyed cloths on brown and its shades thus make their best cost effective mechanism on their entire product strategy. This is something again that felt me to take note for any further development of natural dye in any region or institution. If we need to have a cost effective product development, it is necessary to focus our specialization on natural colours that are extracted from the sources most available in abundance in the local area. This is not to undermine the need for exploring more diversified range of colours. But the experience of Charaka gives enough hints into the advantages of such local-based approach.
After spending two days in Charaka we went to meet Poornima in Talaguppa near Sagar on 4th of March evening. Chandra came to know about her from Prasanna and some others. And what we only knew is that she is managing a small group of women in weaving and making cotton bags, which she needs marketing support for her products. But after meeting her and knowing her more, we realized much more interesting dimension of working with her. Chandra was impressed with her work and gave suggestions more technical improvement and promised for marketing support also.
However what worked in me is the sociologists part of my mind rather than the activist part of it while looking at her activities that in fact confuse me too to look the activities as a mere marketing matter.
I have the whole hearted admiration on her stand in her life to chose a way of living that could be considered as inappropriate by the ordinary Indian society- choose to live alone away from her family members in a farm house in a relatively remote village area. I really thrilled thinking of that idea (somewhere down in my heart a wish that I keeping for long for me to fulfill and yet struggle to find a way to materialize). However now I have something more to think about her and her activities. Why she initiated this activity with local women? Do the marketing or technical support is what she really looking forward?
I do agree that what I feel on this issue may not be a right way yet that is what my heart says. Unlike others initiatives I visited in this tour, this case looks to be unique to me. First this is not part of social action for her but a way for social interaction (that is what Poornima’s words also). Hence the extend to which her activities expecting the support (of any form) is only with the overall aim of ensuring the sustainability of this activity just enough to maintain the social interaction. In other way by ensuring the marketing of the products, the women working in the unit will continue to have faith in the activity and so long stick to be part of the activities- for Poornima this means that she can continue to have the social interaction. If we mistaken this need from a mere marketing and livelihood issue point of view , then the intervention will only create a further pressure on Poornima to have additional role in the activities, that will ask Poornima to consider this activity beyond social interaction to social action. Unless she is prepared for that change in the approach, things may not so smooth for her. Further at every level of increased social interaction, she is exposed to the people around her. This is in a way helps her to build her space in the village she live but have another side, that she will be more exposed to the people around her, which does not looks to be all good for her (a concern that raised by being myself part of typical Indian social mindset). Anyhow I strongly feel that she needs a lot of support and care by people like Prasanna and Chandra and they can be a strong source of support for her to materialize her vision on her activities.
Just as many people working for the promotion of traditional sectors and the improvement of lives of weavers and artisans, there do exist so many approaches on action. I cannot say one is good or other is bad, Because all evolved with the basic motive of helping the people associated with it. However the approaches have to have an effect on the outcome of the action too. My visit to Shramikala, an organization working in Belguam and the observations of their activities related with wool and jute based accessory making unit has took me to another dimension of production and marketing aspects.
We found a major difference in the approach of Shramikala and Charaka regarding their focus on market segment for their products. While Charaka looking for a base on local market, the focus for Shramikala is the wholesale as well as export market. Though both may be right on their own reason, I am a bit skeptical on Shramikala’s heavy reliance on export and other nitch market. I just remember the point that has come during the discussion between Prasanna and Chandra at Charaka on the possible implications of unbalanced rely on nitch market for the products like Khadi , handlooms and other sectors. While these nitch markets may offer a better economic return, the uncertainty ( due to externality of the control) over the demand –supply chain and the subsequent pressure could originally nullify the benefits that such market may bring for the unit, However I am not completely ignore such possibility, because Sramikala has already been experimenting it with out much damage. Yet what I really doubt (may be due to my limited understanding of their whole work) is the capacity of the organizations to withstand the nitch market pressure on constant product development that requires constant flow of capital investment. Can the institutions like Shramikala continue to support heavily on such activities? (just as the industrial houses spending on R&D activities). From the market sustainability point of view it could be good for them to increase their focus on the local market development. However I also value the point that Mr.Mani has on the matter. They find it very difficult to rely on the local market if they wanted to ensure the financial commitment to a large number of people who depend on these activities. It is here , I think, the crux of the issue also they caught up in between two different accepts of the traditional sector- on the one side the concern for the livelihood aspects of the production and on the other hand the need to develop a more sustainable market at the local level which is slow to attain. However a constructive solution is must for the institute to ensure the viability of the operation in long run. They have much to adopt form the institutional framework of Charaka with necessary adjustment to suit their own background. Chandra suggestion to them is vital in this regard- consider an immediate bifurcation of production and market and work up on sustainability of these two operations in separate. Mixing of these two will continue to create more confusion at both the levels of operation.
This my look an internal affairs of the organization, however in order to work with them with the aim of benefiting the artisans ( or any other people who are associated with the wok) we need to motivate the organization to have serious look into their operational aspects.
Our visit to Konarc Cane and Bamboo Development Centre, Kudal in Maharashtra on our way back to Goa is a last minute programme. We had two objectives of the visit; to explore the possibilities of networking with them at some point of operation and to understand their institutional structure that could help us in our own operational plans. For me this is a additional interest- being researcher on the craft –tourism interaction in Kerala, where Bamboo craft is also a major focus, We made our visit on 7th evening to their office. Let me tell frankly I somehow felt a little uneasiness on the visit. Not to say that their work is not very unimportant. But while looking for a constructive network, they seem to me odd rather than perfect fit to the present idea. They are part of a global initiative I can understand their limitation to evolve a strategy for transfer of technology since they are into operation only for three years now ( May be they need many more years to mature into that level!!!!!) . Their focus is on research and development and they are really not planning for any market aspects of the products. What confused me is their admission that their technologies are really not cost effective for the ordinary bamboo artisans to adopt it (?). Then what it stance for? According to them they do receive orders form external institutions, individuals and business house and they work up on such project. The overall idea of activity is not business but to promote the impression on the scope of bamboo technology. Hope they eventually evolve a better strategy for making their research useful for the grass root level. Other wise despite of all their claim, there is reason to fear such heavily funded and subsidized promotional measures will lost its goal in the rush for institutional building. ( we have seen the way our agriculture R&D institutions running while the farmers and the farming is still not much to gain out of it). Because just like farming all other traditional sector (Khadhi, handloom or handicrafts) cannot afford to Waite for a long time to find solutions to its grassroots problems. What we need is constructive programme that goes beyond giving ‘models’ and ‘prototypes’, which i hope Konbac will evolve such in their actions.