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Authenticity and the Value of Crafts

February 28th, 2008 by Jatin Bhatt

India has a rich and diverse tradition of crafts production. From Pashmina shawls in Kashmir to sandal-wood carving in Kerala, from Bandhini in Gujarat to basketry in Meghalaya, millions of artisans and craftworkers work out of hundreds of distinct craft clusters carrying on traditional craft techniques sometimes stretching back hundreds of years. Most of us have at some time or the other, patronised crafts for their reputation, which signifies uniqueness of processes, materials, cultural identity and most of all, its inherent value. Classified as cottage industries, the handloom and craft sectors have also historically constituted a key part of the Indian economy. Official government statistics estimate that 11.3 million people – 6.5 million in handlooms and 4.76 million in handicrafts – to be employed in these sectors.

Post-liberalization, these sectors, together referred to as the Handicrafts Sector, has seen an erosion of their traditional markets as well their employment potential in rural areas. Increased competition, decline in direct government support and the many competitive disadvantages faced due to their location in rural areas are part of the reason for the decimation of many crafts production clusters. But many craftspeople believe that there is also a more direct and malicious reason: the availability of fake craft products that are much cheaper than the original.

Some may ask as to whether the replacement of handmade craft products with machine-made products is not part of the natural progression towards an industrial society, a necessary outcome of the Darwinian dynamic of a competitive market place set in motion by India’s economic and trade reforms. But that does not tell the entire story.

  • If crafts are indeed not competitive in the marketplace, then why do so many industrially made products seek to imitate crafts, use traditional craft motifs and to pose as genuine craft products?

  • If the design ownership for designers and businesses is fiercely protected by law, why not the design ownership of traditional crafts?

  • Our living tradition of crafts is a key contributor to our cultural identity and diversity. Do we recognise this need in its larger significance?

  • Do we recognise craft practitioners as a repertoire of knowledge and unique expression that, in many cases, is also based on sustainable practices?

  • When we buy crafts we not only support the human face behind it but also recognise the authorship and ownership of traditional knowledge. How do we know or have the ability to differentiate between an authentic craft product and an imitation?

  • Finally, how do we sustain and enhance the value of this huge body of living culture? How do we bring about increasing recognition that economic sustainability with dignity and pride of work are crucial to the human spirit of millions involved in diverse craft practices across the country?

- Adarsh Kumar (executive Director – All India Artisans & Craftworkers Welfare Association), Jatin Bhatt

Posted in Apparel, Corporate Social Responsibility, Footwear, India, Lifestyle & Fashion, Soft Goods, Supply Chain, Textiles, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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