Artisans from West Bengal have always been known to weave magic with their hands, creating exquisite handicrafts. But lack of an organised effort in marketing their creations and hence lack of earning, have led many to forsake the livelihood handed down from generation to generation. Many lead an almost hand-to-mouth existence. Still many have engaged themselves in other more profitable work or taken to farming, or have migrated in search of work.
In an effort to create a proper infrastructure to enable artisans to make a sustainable living, the state government has tied up with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which leads global efforts in protecting and preserving man-made and natural as well as intangible assets. UNESCO would help in providing training to these artisans to improve the standards of their products, in order to make them suitable for national and international markets.
Involving UNESCO would help not only in sustaining the production of these handicrafts and hence in preserving a way of life for lakhs of people, but also in identifying international markets where the products can be exported, from where much larger profits can be made than within the state and the country.According to state government data, almost 5.5 lakh people in West Bengal earn a living by making and selling handicrafts.
Making dokra craft in Bikna village, Bankura district
Rural craft hubs, called Shilpagram, would be set up in the districts, where artisans would be based. They would create their handicrafts as well as sell them directly to customers, be it individuals or institutions, from these hubs. No middlemen would be involved. Often these artisans depend on middlemen to take the products to markets and stores in cities and towns. But unfortunately, often these middlemen buy at low prices and sell at a premium, thus ensuring maximum profits for themselves and none for the poor people who created the products. The Department of Micro & Small Scale Enterprises & Textiles would set up these hubs.
Terracotta horses in Bishnupur, Bankura district
In the first phase, ten handicrafts from nine districts have been identified for a place at the rural craft hubs or Shilpagrams. They are
- shitalpati from Cooch Bihar
- wooden masks from South Dinajpur
- kantha stitch garments from Birbhum
- clay dolls from Nadia
- wooden dolls from Barddhaman
- dokra metalwork from Barddhaman and Bankura
- terracotta objects from Bankura
- chhau dance masks from Purulia
- patachitra paintings from West Midnapore
- madur (a mat made of a type of grass) from East Midnapore
One village has been identified in each of these districts where the craft is majorly practiced. Artisans who practice the crafts in these villages, which implies to almost 8000 artisans from 11 villages, of which more than 5000 are women, would receive various types of training from UNESCO, including knowledge of how to market their products better, for 30 months at the rural craft hubs.
Clay dolls of Ghurni village, near Krishnanagar
A patachitra artist at Naya, the village patuas in Pingla block of West Midnapore district
A brighter future
It is hoped that these initiatives of collaborating with UNESCO in training artisans and creating Shilpagrams would result in a larger and more profitable market for these artisans, and save their wonderful works of art.
Kantha stitch garments on display
Majestic wooden mask made at Beldanga village in South Dinajpur district
Chhau dancers of Purulia with their colourful masks
Natungram in Barddhaman district is famous for its wooden dolls
East Midnapore district is famous for its madur mats