It is estimated that the Holi colour industry in India grows at the rate of almost 15 per cent annually. It is to stop this spread of toxic colours that organisations like Kalpavriksha Environment Action Group are now marketing eco-friendly colours as part of their safe festivals campaign.
Manisha Gutman, founder member, says, “We led this campaign for almost five years and realised that unless there were actual eco-sensitive products in the market, even though people wanted to make the right choices they couldn’t.”
That’s when eCoexist was formed, two years ago, to address this lack of eco-sensitive products. The products marketed are non-polluting and made by underprivileged groups such as slum women and women prisoners, who earn a supplementary income.
These products are then sold in all the major cities across India.
The motive behind the campaign was simple. Those behind Kalpavriksha felt that a festival that had begun as a way of offering gratitude to nature had slowly been replaced by the use of substances that harm one’s health and the environment.
Gutman says, “My biggest fear was that people might completely lose touch with the beauty and grace of nature and in the process, with their own inner beauty! This is what motivates me to do the work I do, which connects people to themselves, and ultimately, nature.”
Women farmers of the Malnad Seed Collective in Sirsi, Karnataka make the Rang Dulaar colours. Sunita Rao, who is a member of Kalpavriksh, leads the group. The colours provide a supplemental income to these women farmers to help bring them cash during low agricultural seasons. The network includes several NGOs that train women in sewing, and this year simple cloth pouches to pack the colours in have been designed as well.
The campaign also provides employment to the female ward of the Yerawada Central prison, Pune, which has almost 350 inmates. Gutman says, “ We recieved a request for work for the women some years ago and decided to offer them semi-skilled aspects of our process such as packaging. Labour charges are discussed with prison authorities and the scale of work increases gradually. We are also looking at bringing them other work which involves sewing.”
Success at last
The campaign has been hugely successful. Gutman says,” Though our work is not original - there were several NGOs in Delhi that were already doing similar work when we decided to take it on. Yet, the uniqueness of our work is that we had the courage to take an education campaign to a concrete conclusion, by creating a product that people can actually choose to buy.”
On the commercial front, the organisation has successfully created a niche for these colours and has been able to double their production every year. They are now increasing the range of products and catering to requests from Indian students abroad. This year, the colours have reached Indian students in Oxford University, U K as well University of California, Berkeley.
Also, the Holi colours will expand to include liquid concentrates for wet colours, which will be made using agricultural waste by farmers in Maharashtra. The organisation has introduced two colours this year and will have four by next year. It also intends to provide high quality products that are completely eco-sensitive to national and international markets.
In the future, eCoexist will soon be registered as a private limited firm. Their motto: social entrepreneurship involves a willingness to enter mainstream markets while keeping social and environmental causes as their primary goals. Gutman says, “Simultaneously, we will be running the organisation on the principles of trusteeship, where each employee has an equal say in the direction and vision of the firm.”