Every region in India has its unique handicraft tradition, mostly using locally
available material. Being a labour intensive sector, it supplies employment to
lakhs of artisans all over the country. While for many artisans and workers, making
handicrafts is a full-time livelihood, it also serves as an alternate source of income
for the agricultural workers, who keep themselves employed in this sector during
lean periods in agriculture. Womenfolk in farm families also use this as a means
of gainful employment after their menfolk go to the fields. The handicrafts and
textiles sector is a major source of livelihood throughout rural India.
The sector is also an important foreign exchange earner, as it has very high
export potential. Indian handicrafts and textiles are in great demand abroad
with their unique motifs and colourful textures. Indian handicraft products like
shawls, jewellery, bags, wooden carvings, embroidered material are all popular
at international levels as well.
Every student of Indian history knows about the artefacts that were found at
the site of the famous Mohenjo–daro and Harappan civilizations. The statue of
the dancing girl, the jewellery – all are testimony to the fact that handicrafts have been part of Indian tradition since
the period of the Indus Valley civilization, if not earlier. Subsequent races and dynasties continued this glorious
tradition, incorporating their individual styles and using specific materials, be it wood artefacts of Saharanpur, bidri
work in Andhra Pradesh, the floral motifs of the Indo-Persian style, the rich zari work found in Kanchipuram silks,
the puppets of Rajasthan, et al.
The heritage of Indian textiles also goes back to the Indus Valley civilization, where homespun cotton was used
to weave clothes. Every region has its typical textile tradition. The rich Kanchipuram silk sarees of the South, the
muga and tussar silks of the north east, the grand Banarasi sarees, the Chanderi cotton and silks, the pashmina
and shahtoosh shawls of Kashmir, the brightly embroidered textiles of Rajasthan and Kutch, the phulkari work of
Punjab, all epitomize the richness of India’s textile tradition. Indian silk and jute garments are famous all over the
world and in global demand.
Skilling of artisans has been receiving focused attention. Skilling helps to familiarize the artisan with latest
technology and designs and helps upgrade the product to international standards, thus, leveraging the sector’s inherent
strength as a macro-economic driver.
Women form a very big chunk of workers in this sector. Their skilled hands help produce very delicate handicraft
and textiles – be it the Channapatna wooden toys, embroidery work on textiles, carpet weaving – women form the
backbone of this sector. Empowering them economically and socially is, therefore, crucial.
As an ancient tradition, many of these artisans have learnt their skill from their forefathers and have attained a
very high level of skill and specialization in their art. This is what makes this industry so unique as compared to other
sectors where skills and techniques can largely be learnt in a college or academy in a formal way. It, thus, becomes
even more imperative that this ancient tradition is not allowed to die. The relevant stakeholders need to ensure that
this ancient art flourishes and its skilled hands are economically self -sufficient.