Veterans slog to save dying crafts of India

August 29th, 2008 - 2:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Aug 29 (IANS) Obaidur Rehman is 66 and suffers from a recurring eye problem. Gendilal is six years older. The two, like many others of their age, have a link - work long hours, not only to earn their livelihoods but to keep India’s traditional crafts alive.Rehman works for up to 16 hours a day weaving the famed Benarasi silk saris in the temple town of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh.

“We have no option,” is the refrain of Rehman, Gendilal - who makes leather-based products in Sawai Madhopur of Rajasthan - and others engaged in making traditional craft items.

Rehman is a national award winning weaver as master craftsperson in 1992. The Benarasi handloom sari sector is facing a severe shortage of manpower forcing the likes of him to work on their looms for long hours, day after day.

“Today’s youths are not interested in taking up indigenous crafts. After getting education they want to get employed in the government and private companies. Thus there is a huge dearth of skilled artisans,” Gendilal rued while speaking to IANS.

His leather-based products, including bags, shoes and decorative items, are attracting hordes at the ongoing Nature Bazaar here.The bazaar has been organised by Dastkar, a national NGO promoting indigenous crafts.

Most of the handloom and handicraft products on display at 95 stalls from 19 states are made by elderly artisans. All in their sixties, they’d all be retired if they had been working for the central government.

“For me the only retirement is through death,” says Shiva Kashyap, 63, who practises the Mithila genre of painting and has exhibited her works across India.

“If I stop working, who will take care of my unit where I have very few employees? I am trying to motivate young boys and girls of my village Barheta in Bihar to take up my art,” Kashyap told IANS.

Echoing Shiva, Shelly Jain, senior project coordinator of Dastkar, said that children of the artisans were not ready to carry forward their families’ handicrafts tradition.

“They feel that after completing college education they should have a proper job. They don’t want to struggle like their parents. But we are motivating youngsters of the country to take up various indigenous crafts to earn their livelihood and simultaneously save various crafts from dying,” said Jain.

Dastkar is currently working with local artisans in villages of Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to identify and motivate talented young artisans to take up various crafts.

“Villages are the cradles of Indian crafts. So, we are trying hard to empower artisans to use their inherent skills as a means of earning their livelihood. It is sad that in spite of our rich legacy, several craftsmen in the country are having to fight hard against poverty,” Jain said.

The Nature Bazaar ends Sunday. Some of the products which are selling like hot cakes are rugs from Mirzapur, tribal Gond paintings from Madhya Pradesh, shawls and sarongs from Manipur, organic foodgrains, soaps, handmade paper stationery, oil and preserves.

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