How often do you come across an initiative that promotes tribal crafts as the solution to tackle health concerns? Meet the Porgai Producer Group from Tamil Nadu’s Sittilingi Valley that encourages a group of Lambadi tribal women to preserve their age-old embroidery.
With the lawns of the National Archives of India currently playing host to a group of traders from across the country who promote khadi and malka products, meeting Porgai’s founder, Dr. Lalitha Regi, is effortless. “We look at health in a different context since it’s linked to livelihood. Thus promoting livelihoods has become an important factor in promoting health,” says she, adding: “So we work with farmer groups and one of the things they grow is cotton which the women use to produce products.”
Before the tribal craft initiative came about, the Lambadi embroidery was a dying art and only two women still knew how to create the stitches and beautiful patterns that have been part of their culture for generations, says Dr. Regi. Now the proof is in Porgai’s stall at NAI’s exhibition with each weave and each pattern telling its own tale. “Women now have work all year round and do not have to migrate to other places in search of income. Migration has its own health consequences and this can now be avoided,” she adds.
Yet Porgai is only one of the 13 stalls at the exhibition. “We invited more participants but many of them said that this was the time they have maximum sales back home,” said Uzramma, Director of Hyderabad’s Malkha Marketing Trust and one of the organisers of the exhibition, adding that the event had to be scheduled now to coincide with Gandhiji’s birth anniversary.
The response has been tepid, say traders. “There has been no sale so far,” says Somnath Porida from Utkal Shilpakal Samiti in Odisha, adding that it could be because people don’t know about the event. Others like A. A. Dodwad from Karnataka’s Khadi Nekar Sahakari Utpadak Sangh (KNSUSN) says that this is the first time they have come as far as Delhi.
“We thought we were just showcasing our products here but saris and dupattas seem to be in demand and we didn’t bring as many,” he says. KNSUSN is based in Dharwad district where cotton is produced, spun and woven in the village. “Everything happens in our village except the stitching. Since we don’t have fashion designers, we sell our products to people in neighbouring States.”
As for 22-year-old Moti Basha from the Janapada Seva Trust, he feels people do not understand how much effort goes into making hand-woven textiles. “People assume that khadi should be cheap but they don’t realise how much effort goes into it,” he says. “They are willing to pay high prices for synthetic products but as soon as they see khadi they ask for discounts.”
The exhibition is open up to October 11.