A treasure trove of Indian arts and crafts will be on display here from Friday, but it will be no ordinary exhibition. The show involving 120 artisans is part of a campaign to do away with middlemen who are eating into their profits.
For 10 days, these aristans will sell their products directly to consumers at the craft festival in the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore.
On display will be rugs from Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, tribal 'gond' paintings from Madhya Pradesh and shawls and sarongs by tribal groups from Manipur, natural products like organic food grains, soaps, handmade paper stationery, oil and preserves to name a few.
"Artisans across the country slog to keep alive our traditional handloom and handicraft works. But when it comes to making profits, it is the middlemen who take away a huge chunk. Middlemen buy the products from artisans at a minimal price and sell it to buyers at an exorbitant price," K.C. Sudarshan, a senior member of Sampoorn, an NGO organising the festival, told IANS.
"Thus we thought of a sustained campaign which will start from Bangalore and spread across various parts of the country. In the campaign, the artisans themselves, instead of rights activists, will take up the issue of ending the misrule of middlemen on a serious note to save the industry," added Sudarshan.
Today in India, traditional crafts are mainly seen as a "poor man's industry".
Temsula Ao, a 28-year-old artisan from Dimapur, Nagaland, who has come here to participate in the festival, said: "I have been practising wood craft for more than a decade. But it is only my hobby.
"I also work as a salesperson in a shop in Dimapur to earn my livelihood. Unless and until craftwork provides sustainable benefit to artisans, it will be hard for artisans to carry forward their skills. I am happy that this campaign will help artisans earn their due profit."
Echoing Temsula, Naren Sahu, 42, a Patachitra artisan from Orissa who too will participate in the festival, said, "Artisans are poor people although they work hard. It is time to bring a change in our lives and the campaign will surely help in changing our status."
Across the country, craftspersons are leading lives under extreme poverty although they are selling their products nationally and abroad at inflated prices.
"As craft items with 'ethnic' motifs are popular with the elite, a whole industry has grown around them in which the craftspersons themselves are the last and the least to be rewarded, as middlemen take away all the commission," said Sudarshan.
In India, the crafts sector is still the second largest provider of employment after agriculture, and a number of agricultural communities depend on crafts for their survival in periods of drought, famine or natural disasters.
Many a poor woman in the country has succeeded in earning her bread and butter by practising crafts. However, there is no official figure of the number of people involved in the handloom and handicraft sector.
"In India, which has a rich cultural heritage, the arts and crafts can contribute significantly towards the national economy and in raising the standard of living. However, that can happen only if artisans are confident and self-reliant, and are given the chance to innovate," said Sudarshan.
Sampoorn, formed in 2000, organises crafts bazaars across Karnataka to help artisans and entrepreneurs of arts and handicrafts to sell their products directly to consumers.