Express press service
Official figures suggest that India is home to around seven million skilled artisans in various trades. However, many of these handicrafts fail to thrive due to a lack of consumer demand and opportunities. Unable to monetize their expertise in a multi-generational profession, many artisans join other sectors for livelihood security.
In an attempt to breathe new life into craftsmanship languishing in obscurity, the Enactus team at Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) launched the Virasat project in 2018. This organization was set up to collaborate with skilled artisans in handicrafts such as Pichwai, a style of painting from Rajasthan, and other crafts, and helps to promote them.
The first initiative of this project was to engage the Thatheras of Jandiala Guru in Amritsar. These artisans are skilled in a craft with a heritage of around 200 years; they handcraft copper and brass utensils. However, with the popularity of steel containers in most households, the demand for these dishes has declined.
“When we visited the community, we realized that although there was a lot of market potential for handicrafts, there was hardly any demand,” shares Aakriti Jain (20), an economics student of the SRCC. After conducting surveys and identifying their issues, the members devised a strategy to create a website (P-Tal) for the community. “Our goal is not to make craftsmen mere sources of supply of goods, but to transform them into self-employed entrepreneurs,” adds Jain, the current director of the project.
“Each job has a different set of problems,” says Jain. The Virasat team therefore looks into each of the craftsmen’s problems and provides solutions accordingly. Virasat has also worked with artisans skilled in Pichwai painting from Nathdwara, Rajasthan and has created a website for these artisans called “Nathdwara Artist”.
Currently, the team is focusing on the community of Usta artists in Rajasthan and artisans in Uttar Pradesh making Gaurahari stone products made from ‘Gaura Pathar’, a natural stone. With a digital presence, Virasat displays these products on its site for purchase. The products are sold worldwide and although the revenue goes to the artisan, around 30% is retained as an operating expense.
Still going strong
“Any community-based market model depends, to some degree, on that community,” Jain says. Due to such co-dependency, Jain mentions that they faced some challenges along the way. “There were trust issues because when we first started working with Usta and Gaurahari craftsmen, we couldn’t meet them directly before onboarding them,” adds Jain.
At a time when the government’s ‘Make in India’ policy and other programs are helping artisans, the Virasat project has also been instrumental in offering support to help Indian crafts become relevant and sustainable again.