Surviving on self-sustaining business models with craftspeople often growing their own raw materials, the sector has also been the pioneer of inclusion and environment-friendly practices in a true sense.
India has been known for its art and craft across the globe for centuries. The huge variety of craft-forms and astonishing artisanal skills are borne from India’s deep tradition, the vast geography and rich history. In turn, this has driven a continuous increase in handicraft exports. With export growth of 1.6 per cent, year-on-year during April-November 2018 (as per IBEF reports) the largely disparate crafts sector has also made a significant contribution to the national and state exchequer. As one of the largest employment generators after agriculture, the sector is a key means of livelihood to India’s rural and urban population. Surviving on self-sustaining business models with craftspeople often growing their own raw materials, the sector has also been the pioneer of inclusion and environment-friendly practices in a true sense.
One wonders, therefore, if enough is being done to maximise the potential of Indian craft for greater yields for the national economy and contributing to improved livelihoods of artisans at local community levels. A look at the demographics of the artisans provides some insights. According to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts report on Cultural Mapping of India (under UNESCO’s Programme on Cultural Industries and Copyright Policies and Partnerships) ‘rapid change in lifestyle, ageing, and negligence, the vast repertoire of knowledge and wisdom that sustained and nurtured the community, is fast disappearing’.
The need of the hour is a deep and complete view of the sector, its constituents, and its people. Unfortunately, such holistic data and documentation do not exist. These days, craft sector demands craft questions like "What constitutes crafts? Do carpets, metal works, silk and embroidery all constitute craft? Who is an artisan?"
While noteworthy attempts have been made by the Government through the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) collating data around exports in the sector, research-based data to quantify the uncontested economic value of the crafts sector in India is still missing. British Council, is, in part attempting to shore up this major omission with a range of emerging partnerships such as FICCI, UNDP and UNESCO.
The clarion call is for India to take a serious look at its crafts culture and bring this to the forefront. More has been done with less in other economies, and with more than 3,000 craft forms (and counting), India looks to be sitting on an untapped goldmine. With the right support and a conducive business environment, the Indian craft sector has the scope to become a billion-dollar marketplace across the globe, exemplifying all that is best about Made in India.