Cottage industry can help in rural empowerment

JAIPUR: It’s regrettable that the government is willing to pay an unemployed woman for lifting mud at an NREGA site, but if little consideration is made for protection of traditional craft and trade, these people would not have been left unemployed in the first place, says Rajeev Sethi, whose contribution in the field of crafts and culture have been honoured with a Padma Bhushan.

Sethi was in the city to attend the convocation of Indian Institute of Crafts and Design (IICD). Talking to TOI, he brought to the fore many issues affecting the life of those who keep alive the art and craft of the region. Excerpts from the interview

Q: The craft industry has been facing challenges eversince the onset of heavy industry. Do you propose any model for its revival ?

A: Less profitability has been driving craftsmen away from their traditional jobs. There is demand for their products, only that they need to be marketed and managed. Just like the Amul’ revolution has made farmers partners in dairy business, if craftsmen are made partners in the profit and if there is proper management, the trade will once again revive.

Q. Despite adversities, how the crafts industry survived this long, and how relevant is it to conserve cultural industry in industrializing the country ?

A: It is in fact a creative and cultural industry. It’s a mode of production that is imbibed with the artistic essence and cultural roots of the country. It employs over 200 million people and has insurmountable turnover. However, due to lack of marketing and patronage, the pace of craftsmen deserting their traditional means of livelihood has increased. If this industry dies, government will have to spend nearly Rs 800 crore in providing employment even when a little effort can help in the conservation of cottage industry.

Apart from the ascetic value, it can be noticed that agriculture has been growing at an annual pace of 3% and large industries despite all government efforts have not responded well. The cultural industry holds optimum solution to the rising employment needs. We have promotional packages for all forms of industries. This sector is a well-deserving one.

Q Why has the government been unable to tap the potential?

A: They tend to see the industry in segregated form. Khadi goes to one ministry, art and culture to another, wool is in textile and so on. It’s an integrated trade, we need to have it under one ministry. Educational setup must be improved to enhance the understanding towards the working of this grassroots trade.

Unfortunately, the legacy of our cultural assets is being neglected and the traditional skills are being devalued even in the light of a knowledge-based society. India first conceived of a craft institute in 1960s but five decades later, we barely have five such institutions across country while China in the past couple of decades has came up with nearly 300 such institutions.

Q As a cultural industry does it need to change along with culture?

A: Sure, culture is ever evolving and so must the creative cultural industry. However, it is essential to maintain the ecologically sustainable and environment-friendly nature of these rural industries. Recognition of craft and culture as a component of school and college curriculum could help these industry evolve in accordance to contemporary times.

Sethi’s ideas for revival of the industry have been appreciated by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. His personal efforts have led to establishment of a craftsmen cooperative Jiyo’ with the help of World Bank. Jiyo has initiated marketing of handicraft saris and has also ventured into food business. It is expected to be in Rajasthan in the near future. Sethi said that Rajasthan with the advantage of a flourishing tourism and handicraft industry holds the promise to become the cultural industry hub of the country.


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