As per the 2011 census, about 60% of Indian population lives in rural India.
The India that has been rising since Independence and more so after 1991 has given us ample shiny complexes and forex reserves. But this skewed model of development and misplaced priorities have taken a toll on the once vibrant Indian villages and indigenous handicrafts. With the PMs’ call for being “Vocal for Local”, reminiscent of the Swadeshi Movement of 1905, there are a lot of untapped opportunities that will help to revive the rural economic growth and make the villages Atmanirbhar. Indha has been acting as a torchbearer in this field since 2005.
Cloth that inspired
Remember, your grandma spinning the wheel, summoning thread out of the cotton during those summer days, as you visited the village to spend some time with her. And as the end of your holidays approached, she’d kiss your forehead, gifting you a beautiful dress made out of the cloth of thread she’d spun with love. A present of affection, effort and legacy of her craft.
That’s what Indha is trying to do, bringing you the history of disappearing handiworks, a token of affection from the past to the future. Started by Capt. Indraani Singh, Indha aims to empower tribal and artisan women by skilling & livelihood programmes and market their products. With her experience as the founder of Literacy India, a non-profit organization focusing on education & skilling of underprivileged children and women, Indha aims for generating sustainable income for the unskilled tribals and artisans. The name ‘Indha’ was given by the beneficiary rural women themselves. It’s the cloth used by them over their heads that bears the load while carrying pots. This is symbolic of the balancing act they perform while managing their homes and work.
The 300+ traditional handmade products focus more on utility than being mere decorative pieces. Thus they tend to have a wide domestic market, with substantial offline and online linkages. The bulk demand is generated by offline Business to Business and corporate gifts. Lately, sales across e-commerce platforms have been increasing as well. The cluster-based model spans across villages of Jharkhand, West Bengal, UP and Haryana. Being a women-centric social enterprise, the management of clusters is solely led by women artisans and they currently employ more than 550 tribals and artisans.
Something for everyone
Their wide product range includes bags, pouches, home furnishing items, cushions, sheets, clothing, jewellery, stationery, etc. with exquisite & ethnic designs like block printing, embroidery and patterns. The beautiful, handcrafted products are unique as recycling and eco-friendly processes are adopted in making them. Jute and cotton fabric pieces discarded by textile factories are used to create some of the products while ensuring no plastic is included. Recycled material is also used for making handmade paper sheets.
Indha also focuses on imparting multiple and specialized skills to the artisans so that they have high relevance and adaptability. Thus, they have trained artists and painters to become designers. This flexibility comes as a blessing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the women are better equipped and self-reliant. The production is being shifted to newer products like face masks, protective gear, etc.
Overcoming the challenges
The primary challenge that Indha faces is demand generation. People are not aware that their purchase choice will benefit women, tribals & artisans and promote the rich heritage of handicrafts in India. Pricing issues like low capital resources, material sourcing and high retail cost results in a fluid supply-demand equilibrium. The handmade nature of the products, with varying quality & consistency, adds to the challenge. Shifting to more hygienic processes and facilities due to Coronavirus pandemic will push up costs and production time further. Thus, more awareness and capacity building are needed to address various challenges faced by the artisans of Indha.
Bit of feast for all
Indha aims to become a platform that provides a channel for partners’ products as well as CSR funds via a partnership with Literacy India. The synergies with partner organizations are being utilized in these uncertain times by providing online education for the children of artisans, apart from providing ration and fundraising activities.
With the long-term vision to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for women in rural India and improve their socio-economic condition, Indha aims to involve 1500 women. Generation of fair profits for them via scaling up the value chain, sales and revenue will help them realize their vision. Initiatives such as Indha go a long way to ensure that the fruits of developments reach the grassroots and transform lives.
In the real sense, this is the ‘local’ that we, as aware citizens, must be ‘vocal’ about.
Article by Subhav Duggal, Team ulaunch.