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Since 1981 Dastkar has been instrumental in the creation of many crafts revival and self-sustainable craft community development projects, that then went on to grow independently into some of the most successful, recognised and referred-to success stories in the Indian crafts sector.

Dastkar has always held one of its core philosophies to be the goal of its own redundancy. As a craftgroup takes on board the design, production and marketing skills training that Dastkar organises for them; then matures and is able to organise, manage and directly market its craft products independently, Dastkar phases out its involvement and takes on new craftgroups in need of similar assistance.

Dastkar is both the invisible and visible instrument in the economic and social improvement affecting over 600 producer groups from across the country. Dastkar’s support services are the invisible processes behind the visible marketing platforms of the popular and well-attended Dastkar Bazaars and Exhibitions that provide craftspeople with exposure to and direct interaction with the urban consumer, enabling them to gauge market trends and customer demands for themselves.

BEROZGAR MAHILA KALYAN SANSTHA (BMKS)

Dastkar, in 1993, provided the initial financial assistance to free 75 bonded tribal women In the Godda district of Bihar. This group of women then formed BMKS, a tussar-spinning and weaving craftgroup.

One of Dastkar’s goals was to create a self-sustaining, viable producer group by encouraging it to market directly and not depend on subsidised craft. Through constant inputs of design, innovative weaving techniques and encouragement in the use of natural colours through vegetable dyeing and colour-fastness workshops, Dastkar ensured that the end product was competitive.

At one point a severe resource crunch prevented BMKS from achieving full production and immediate marketing support was needed to help the project remain economically viable. Dastkar organised financial support in the form of a one-time revolving capital grant for raw materials and wages and assisted the group in design and skill upgradation, development of a new product range and with marketing through Dastkar Bazaars and Exhibitions.

Tussar is now perceived as a premium product and BMKS sales have gone up by more than 500% since its inception. Between 2000 and 2010 BMKS sales through participation in Dastkar Bazaars alone went from Rs.9.7 lakhs to Rs.38.7 lakhs! In recent years BMKS has regularly had a total annual turnover of over Rs.1crore. This does not include any government assistance and the money helps in providing training to more tribal craftswomen.

From its start with 75 craftswomen, now BMKS comprises approximately 500 members, of which 400 are women. The organisation provides work to 3250 craftsmen and craftswomen; a total of 4000 people indirectly benefit from this economic activity.

Today, this craftgroup provides tussar fabrics and yarns to craft producers all over India within the Dastkar network and through commercial traders.

DISHA

DISHA was started in 2009 by 2 rural development professionals with over 20 years experience in the sector. Their focus was on impoverished and exploited women of the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, many of whom had been left behind by economic migrant men folk, becoming their family’s sole earner. They had been left to fend for themselves, dealing with land disputes and divorce, sexual exploitation and domestic violence. DISHA worked to make these women aware of their legal rights.

In 2010, realising that the women of this area were skilled in the traditional craft of Bandhani or Bandhej (tie-dye) and seeing the potential in this activity for income-generating economic self-reliance that leads to greater freedom in strategic life choices, DISHA approached Dastkar for support service assistance.

Dastkar conducted a field survey to assess DISHA’s needs. In the villages of Sujangarh, Ladano and Tehsil alone there were approximately 2000 families engaged in Bandhej work. It was found that a Bandhej worker earned only Rs.20 for 3 to 4hrs of work per day, or just Rs.3 for work on 1 duppata. But this was only a part-time occupation, their main employment being that of sweepers in government offices, earning a monthly wage of around Rs.300.

Dastkar observed the different skill levels of the women and visited the local markets to gauge the quality of raw materials being used and the kinds of designs available. On this basis Dastkar decided to implement a programme of design development workshops so new product ranges could be developed according to customer demand and market trend.

Dastkar aimed to strengthen DISHA’s organisation, help to revive the craft of Bandhani to a level of quality almost snuffed out in the region and, through sales at Dastkar’s Bazaars, increase incomes thereby directly affecting improvement in health, education and lifestyles.

To start with there were 15 craftswomen associated with DISHA. By 2012 this figure had gone up to 135, including craftsmen involved with the dyeing process. It was anticipated that the number of people benefitting from DISHA’s actions would grow to around 200 people within a few years. Incredibly, in the space of about 18 months, those benefitting were already 400! When DISHA started, skilled craftswomen were earning Rs.100-150 a day and un-skilled workers were earning Rs.40-50 a day. An approximate increase of 20% was anticipated in the income of these craftswomen. Once again outstripping expectations, in 2012 DISHA Bandhani workers were earning Rs.2,200 to Rs.2,500 per month.

DISHA intends to continue to increase its outreach to encompass more women of other neighbouring villages, so that the long-term benefits of craft-enabled empowerment may be felt by the community at large.

DASTKAR RANTHAMBORE

In one of its earliest and best known achievements, 20 years ago Dastkar was asked to develop a rural income-generation programme in the villages around the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, with a special focus on women.

The Dastkar Ranthambore Project became a fine example of Dastkar’s work on reviving crafts and establishing craftgroups with unique identities. In this instance, Dastkar’s efforts towards revitalising local craft communities resulted in the revival of existing local skills and traditions in the Sawai-Madhopur district of Rajasthan, an area where craftspeople had almost given up their craft traditions and were working as agricultural labour.

With the creation of a Crafts Centre, the Dastkari Kendra, Dastkar organised workshops for the local craftspeople incorporating contemporary design, product development and production systems training, including costing and pricing.  With the assistance of designers from NID, NIFT and other external consultants, skill development workshops were run covering tailoring, cutting and sizing, indigo and natural dye training as well as improving firing and glazing skills for local potters.

When Dastkar started the Ranthambore Project in 1991 there were 100 Bandhani workers in Sawai-Madhopur, today there are more than 2000. This Dastkar project has directly empowered over 370 craftsmen and craftswomen from villages in the area. Average monthly earnings that were in the region of Rs.500 now range from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 6000, a considerable amount in a rural economy. The project turnover was Rs.1.29 crore in 2011-2012; an exponential growth from Rs.22 lakhs 7 years earlier! New villages continue to be incorporated into the project and the craftswomen now travel all over India to sell their products at Dastkar and other Bazaars, also receiving wholesale and export orders from Europe and the US.

Beyond the economic empowerment of craftspeople provided by the Dastkar Ranthambore Project, the Dastkari Kendra also became an active catalyst for social development. Starting just as a workplace for crafts production, the Kendra soon expanded its reach by providing a venue for numerous other activities including regular workshops on legal aid, health, family-planning, gender, group-building, management and accounting. Adult literacy classes form the first half of the morning. Where, two decades ago, there was only suspicion and caste fissures, there is now a sense of community illustrating the impact of this project that goes far beyond that of commercial success.

KALA RAKSHA

Judy Frater, an American researcher doing work on Rabari culture and crafts, approached Dastkar in 1990 for help in creating viable products and markets for the traditional embroidery made by the women of this and two other communities doing the finer Suf as well as Pako embroidery. These women were un-organized but highly skilled and badly in need of a source of alternative earning. Dastkar strongly believed that traditional craft, an economic activity in harmony with local, social, cultural and environmental norms, could be a catalyst not just of earning and employment but to the development process as a whole.

From the beginning Dastkar emphasized the vital importance of the initial process of group formation, and the principle that all other training be coordinated to the pace of the group rather than the individual. Workshops were organized, identifying women with appropriate skills, personalities and potential to take on managerial and organizational responsibilities at various stages of the project. Costing, sizing, quality and production systems were kept very simple, with each group of women interacting and being involved in the process.

Two years later, in 1993, the Sumraser Suf group was registered as a separate autonomous entity ‘Kala Raksha’,  and went on to become an impressive example of micro-enterprise self-sustainability through craft. Their quality and design development is outstanding and this is reflected in their annual turnover which was over Rs.1 crore in 2010-2011.

Kala Raksha today works with nearly 1,000 embroidery artisans of seven ethnic communities, providing direct and indirect benefits to 1,500 artisans. A craftsperson’s monthly earning has gone from Rs.1,000 in the early years to today’s average between Rs.3,000 to Rs.7,000 per month, a significant sum in an agrarian village economy. Income generation, preventive health care, basic education, and group savings are all integrated in a comprehensive development program.

SANDUR KUSHALA KALA KENDRA (SKKK)

A vivid illustration of linking skills, needs, design and market trends is the Dastkar project with the Lambani embroidery workers in Sandur. As part of their educational, social welfare and developmental activities, Sandur Manganese and Iron Ores Ltd. Co. (SIMORE) had been working with local Lambani tribal women in the North Karnataka mining town of Sandur for twenty years.

The Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra (SKKK) was established as an NGO in 1984 and was initially sponsored and promoted by Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Ltd. The society was heavily subsidised and remained small-scale due to the lack of systematic design and marketing inputs. Occasional and uncoordinated initiatives in rural and urban marketing, without any analysis of which products would suit a particular market or who their potential customer might be, prevented the society from being economically viable.

In 1991 SKKK approached Dastkar for help. Dastkar found that Lambani craftswomen who embroidered brilliant garments for themselves were machine-tailoring products in pink plastic. They received a daily wage irrespective of their daily output, skill levels or the eventual selling price or saleability of the product. This naturally meant there was no incentive to increase output or improve work quality. Both output and skill level had sunk to that of the least skilled woman.

Dastkar decided to organise design and product development workshops to create a range of soft furnishings based on the women’s own traditional embroidery. Since Dastkar is always in favour of using indigenous raw materials easily available locally, the Lambanis were encouraged to use local fabrics. However, as these were often chemically dyed Dastkar innovated further through vegetable dye workshops thereby multiplying the product development potential. With Dastkar’s constant emphasis on quality control and production supervision, this soon became one of the most important tasks in the embroidery unit of the Centre.

Dastkar also recommended several policy changes, such as a payment policy where the craftswoman be paid per piece, providing incentives for especially fine work and deduction for shoddy or late work to motivate the craftswomen to take personal responsibility in quality control and delivery schedules. Dastkar further recommended that the women not be forced to work at the Centre but take the work home as one of the main advantages of a craft occupation is it needs neither fixed workplace nor infrastructure and can be flexibly worked into household commitments. The outreach of the Centre and number of craftswomen covered expanded considerably.

Within three years of the project, the number of craftswomen benefitting from the Centre had increased from 25 to150, with an additional 50 under training. Their earnings had gone up from Rs.10 a day to approximately Rs.600 to Rs.1000 per month. Today 350 craftspeople earn Rs.2,000 to Rs.6,000 per month and benefit from measures such as subsidized rations, bonuses and insurance through the Provident Fund scheme.

When it began, SKKK was totally dependent on subsidies and financial assistance, today the society is self-sufficient and meets its overheads from its own transactions. The organisation’s annual turnover for 2011-202 was a very healthy Rs.99 lakhs. The Lambani craftswomen of Sandur took on a new vitality and strength through Dastkar’s intervention and today their lives reflect the colour, vitality and vigour of their own traditional embroideries.