The artisans of Jharkhand were on their way to script a success story thanks to a government initiative Jharcraft. But then in 2014, they lost a good leader, and then the government's support.
The skilled artisans of Jharkhand had almost forgotten their crafts, which were passed down through generations. They were almost reduced to being unskilled labourers across India, because of the waning interest in their art. But in 2006, a state initiative Jharcraft sparked an art revival. The initiative, started by Dhirendra Kumar, Special Secretary in the Department of Industries, was targeted at the rural, tribal artisans to promote self-employment opportunities in sericulture, handloom, handicrafts and khadi by forming collectives in the villages to help local artisans. This would allow them to continue their skilled work without migrating to cities in search of work.
The initiative was met with enthusiasm from artisans across Jharkhand, who happily left their menial jobs across the state. Families travelled back to their villages to breathe life into their once silent handlooms and crafts. The revival had achieved success, bringing incomes into households and products into all corners of India.
The Six Glorious Years of Jharcraft
By 2013, the numbers told this fascinating story of success! Over 40,000 weavers got engaged in cotton, silk and wool work, and incomes had doubled or tripled on average. 125,000 farmers, mostly Adivasi, were engaged in sericulture; hundreds of silk and cotton handloom cooperative societies were revived. More than 14,000 people, mainly women got involved in embroidery, Adivasi crafts, bamboo art, and the famous dhokra metalwork. The initiative went beyond just engaging artisans. Weavers got credit to buy new looms and repair old ones; good quality raw material was provided along with technical innovations to produce finer yarn. State emporiums were set-up across major Indian cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata to create a supply chain and market. All this was topped up with new product designs and marketing strategies as a synergy between art that has existed since ancient times.
But after six years of success, the initiative lost its leader Dhirendra Kumar, the Managing Director and with him, the support that had strengthened them for all these years. Today, once again Jharkhand’s handlooms are becoming silent, and its artisans are once again forced to become unskilled labourers. This story is about one such village, Uparkonki and it’s resident handloom expert Sikandar, who had led the Jharcraft movement in his village in 2011.
“I had formed a committee with many weavers of my village. I told them that Jharcraft will give us employment,” Sikander fondly recalls. His move brought back many village artisans including his own sons, who were previously working in Ranchi in a car showroom. Mohammed Sabir Ali, also a resident of Uparkonki, returned after 30 years. “I was a rickshaw driver for all these years because I had to sustain my family. But I left everything to return to handloom,” says Mohammed. The start was great as the weavers of Uparkonki were receiving orders worth Rs 5-6 lakh a year, from national and international clients. Today, the reality is quite stark. “Today, I hardly earn Rs 300-500 from this handloom. But this initiative was remarkable. It gave our craft an identity,” recalls Mohammed.
Jharkhand Government's Neglect, Corruption, Decline
Troubles started showing at Jharcraft in 2014 when Dhirendra Kumar retired. Without the enthusiastic leader, this initiative met dust eventually. “There hasn’t been a supportive Managing Director since, ” Sikander says. Artisans cite many reasons such as lack of raw material, the indifferent approach of government, disinterested officials, corruption and on goes the list.
Financially, the initiative had come a long way as a successful model. For instance, in the year 2007-08, a year after it starts, Jharcraft had registered a loss of Rs 51.5 lakh, according to the annual report. But at end of seven years, in 2014, Jharcraft recorded a profit of Rs 38 lakh and an income of approx. Rs. 75 crores. But after the exit of Dhirendra Kumar, Jharcraft has failed to publish any annual or audit reports for two years. The organisation is a state entity, answerable about the expenditure and income of the public money. Why has it failed to do so?
Jharcraft also has a serious manpower/ recruitment issue. A brief look at the Opportunities section of the website shows how Jharcraft has several key positions lying vacant at all levels - the Chief Executive Officer, General Managers, Project Managers, Trainers. Why are recruitments still vacant?
Jharcraft has benefitted more than 2.5 lakh families from marginal, tribal backgrounds to lead a dignified life while safeguarding their art and culture. The initiative has the potential to touching more lives in Jharkhand, where 88% of the population still lives in rural areas. The deliberate negligence of this initiative shows the short-sightedness of those in power who are letting this innovative initiative wither away through their inability to gauge its potential.