As the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the lockdown throughout the globe, it affected almost all the business sectors and that includes the Indian craft sector as well. Handicrafts, as we all know acquire a very precious place within the cultural heritage of India and also closely connected to people’s sentiment because nowhere, except India, can we find such diverse craft ideas. But the crisis caused by the pandemic disrupted it all.
Maximum of the craftspeople in India runs a small business of their own and do not have enough financial capability to hold on to such a crisis. Apart from that, these artisans, not being a part of a formal economy are also not able to access loans from banks or any other financial institutions. They mainly rely on retail sales and direct orders. But due to the lockdown, the retailers themselves are closed and there is even no sign of immediate recovery from this situation as the crisis increases. Cash flow has stopped and it resulted in the buyers’ inability to make payments and permit sales. Due to this cash crisis, the artisans are not even receiving any orders.
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The Life of Artisans
According to them, they will be unable to clear the stocks they have and this will cause not only a decrease in production but also in debt. “The corona epidemic has broken our back,” said Aarti Patra, one of the Sabai-grass basket-makers in Odisha. These people are hugely suffering from the fact that they have no work, they are helpless and in need. They are somewhat in a dilemma that whether the virus or hunger will cause their death.
Moreover, these retailers often prove themselves as exploiters. They cheat the poor craftspeople by buying the craft pieces at a low price and sealing them to the customers at a high price. The artisans are generally creative people; they invest their full strength and time to make the products. They don’t understand the tricks and turns needed in a business and therefore the retailers can easily fool them.
Even though Indian crafts capture a special place, we cannot deny that it has a limited spread like exhibitions (organized by various governmental or non-governmental organizations), fairs, etc. It is also noticeable that these crafts are also failing to keep pace with the crafts of the modern genre—urbanization, digitization, behaviour of the customers, change in taste are all affecting in its slow downfall. The youth of the nation has very little or no time to look into and appreciate the effort that goes into handicrafts.
Keeping the Art Alive
However, to rise from this critical situation, various NGOs, designers, crafts cooperatives, merchandisers, entrepreneurs, and artisan families had come together and are introspecting. They are connecting and creating new collaborations and discussions. Several webinars, WhatsApp groups, and zoom meetings are created and through these the crafts and the craftspeople are getting a platform like never before. They have, it seems, quite well understood the proverb “United we stand and divided we fall”. By acknowledging the seriousness of the ongoing crisis they understood how important it is to work together if they are keeping alive both their art and themselves.
Another fact had also been noticed—retailers who kept their business secret normally, designers, and even entrepreneurs are sharing the details of the artisans, naming their ‘karigars’ and providing them with direct donations and orders. They have known the fact that if their karigars fall, so will their business.
No matter what the crisis is, may it be the previous demonetization or unplanned imposition of GST or the now persisting coronavirus pandemic, it is their creativity and hard work that will keep them going through the rough.