The intricately carved metal bell, wood and bamboo products adorn many a home in India and abroad. But the nearly 20,000 tribal families in Chhattisgarh who crafted them remain mired in poverty, with no direct access to the market that is giving increasing shelf space to the figurines and wall hangings.
“There is rising demand for our products from foreign countries as well as from various regions of India, but despite the market boom, poverty is worsening day by day,” said Sonu Mandwai, a 33-year-old artisan from the interior Abujmad area of Narayanpur district in Bastar.
The thickly forested Abujmad area is part of the 40,000 sq km tribal-dominated Bastar region, a stronghold of Maoists.
Comprising the districts of Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, Bastar and Dantewada, the Bastar region is home to roughly 20,000 artisans with traditional expertise in making world-class handicraft items in bell metal, wood, wrought iron, terracotta, bamboo, leather and from horn and bone.
However, the artisans are unable to make money from their products as the middlemen or traders who supply the markets purchase the finished items from them at low cost and sell it in the market at a price twenty times higher.
The middlemen are especially active in the main artisans’ centres of Kondagaon, Keshkal, Pharasgaon, Narayanpur and Bade Dongar.
Shyamsundar Vishwakarma, a Chhattisgarh State award winner for iron craft, said, “It is not a profitable business at all. People appreciate my products, but the overall lack of direct marketing channels of Bastar handicraft items in national and international market keep the artisans battling to survive.”
Sharda Salam, another artisan in Abujmad’s Bhutakhar village who makes 15 designs of bamboo craft, said, “Rising poverty is killing the Bastar artisans despite some government support. We make items so we can prosper but the profit goes to middlemen and we continue to struggle to feed our families.
“If this trend continues, the nation will see the end of Bastar’s art,” she said.
B.K. Sahu, officer in charge of Bastar region of the State government’s Chhattisgarh Hastshilp Vikas (Handicrafts Development) Board that is assigned to launch schemes to care of artisans, admitted the artisans were still stuck in poverty though their products were selling in India and abroad.
“Their economic condition is improving with the rise in demand of their products such as the bamboo flute which are unmatched in the national and global market. They are recovering from poverty, but the recovery pace is extremely slow,” Sahu told IANS on the sidelines of a function organised by the State government to showcase tribal art in Raipur’s Guru Ghasidas Museum complex.
Dozens of Bastar artisans had put up stalls at the function, which ended Sunday.
“In a just concluded week-long fair in Raipur at ‘Chhattisgarh Haat’, the handicraft items of Bastar artisans made a sale of over Rs.1.25 million, which was much higher than my expectations. It is just an indication how perfectly they carve out their products,” Sahu said.
“In the past one year, their products made record sales in Italy, France, Britain and other European nations and now we are targeting to enter the US market,” he said, adding that the board had just launched an “Abujmad to America” campaign.