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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 13:09 GMT
Rebuilding Gujarat's traditional crafts
Village weaver in Gujurat
The village weaver's livelihood is under threat
Sanjoy Majumder Nita Bhalla

Among those who were badly hurt by last year's earthquake in Gujarat were the state's traditional craftsmen and artisans.

The state has a rich tradition of handicrafts and other arts, including weaving, embroidery, and pottery, leather and metal work - trades that date back several centuries.

A handicraft shop in Gujurat
Buying local handicrafts
Although no figures are available, voluntary organisations and aid agencies estimate that tens of thousands of people working in these fields have been affected, putting their livelihoods and traditions at risk.

Their future has become even grimmer because their traditional markets - in the towns of Bhuj, Anjar, Bachau and Rapar - have been badly hit since many of these urban centres have yet to fully recover from the earthquake.

Aid workers say there is a real threat of these traditions being lost forever unless something is done soon.

Struck by disaster

"The artisans have lost their clients because many of the shopkeepers who used to buy their material have gone out of business," said Pankaj Shah of the Kachch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan, a non-government organisation working in Bhuj.

Map of Gujarat
"In addition, the destruction of the region's historic sites as well as the events of 11 September have driven the tourists away, and the artisans have lost a lucrative source of income," he added.

Gujarat has a long history of artistic traditions and its colourful shawls, textiles and other handicrafts were a big draw in major Indian cities as well as overseas markets.

Some of the traditional handicrafts involved a complex production process. For instance, the popular tie-and-dye process involved women from one village who would gather the material and tie it together, before men from another village dyed it in different shades.

Gujurat handicrafts shop
Fruits of Gujurati looms
All that was lost last January when the earthquake hit the area.

"We lost everything," recalled Bhuwan, a weaver who now lives in a relocated weavers' village outside Bhuj.

"I lost my loom, my work shed as well as most of my raw material."

Dayaben, who lives in Navagam village near Anjar, lost her husband - a weaver - in the earthquake. Her four daughters are married and live away, so she has no source of income.

Village weaver
Artisans and craftsmen are struggling to survive
A voluntary agency is now training her to become a tailor.

"We have lost more than half our business," added Hamir, another weaver.

But voluntary workers say the handicrafts industry was already in deep trouble before the earthquake.

In the 1990s, the easing of import laws and rampant commercialisation led to stiff competition in which the traditional artisans lost out.

New skills

"This was an unorganised sector," said Durga of Abhiyan, a collective of several NGOs working in the Kachch region of Gujarat.

"And the government paid little attention," she added.

It has now fallen to the NGOs to come to the assistance of the state's artisans.

They are helping rebuild workshops and provide tools, but also attempting to revitalise the trade to recapture lost markets and find new ones.

One group, the Kachch Mahila Vikas Sanghatan (KVSM) has started marketing handicrafts under the brand name Qasab, in order to package the material more attractively and find new buyers.

Another charity, Care International in partnership with the Federation of Indian Commerce and Industry, held design workshops with one of the country's leading fashion technology institutes, to upgrade the workers' skills and come up with more competitive products.

Several of the organisations are also planning to create common resource centres which could generate funds and shared resources as well as help market the products.

"We need to build a brand image for Kachch," said Pankaj Shah of KVSM.

"It is the only way we can revitalise the traditional crafts of the region. It is a long process and we have a long way to go," he said.

See also:

22 Jan 02 | South Asia
Hope rises from Gujarat's ruins
03 Jun 01 | South Asia
Vajpayee to review Gujarat progress
03 Jun 01 | South Asia
Gujarat: Rebuilding shattered lives
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