Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s thrust on going vocal about local toys in his monthly Mann Ki Baat be matched by policy initiatives to shore up financial returns for artisans so as to retain them in the traditional sector?
That is the question asked by stakeholders in Channapatna (Ramanagaram district), which has earned the sobriquet of a ‘toy city’ or ‘Gombbegala Ooru’.
The concerns are real as the number of skilled artisans coming up is dwindling and the new generation is loath to enter the business owing to inadequate returns.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also dealt a crippling blow to the industry. Out of nearly 200-plus units, about 25 to 30% are functioning on a nominal basis owing to a lack of demand for toys, according to Amiruddin of Rabbani Handicrafts in Channapatna.
This is in addition to individuals making toys in their respective houses.
“We had nearly 9,000 to 10,000 artisans and workers engaged in making toys in our town once and that number has now declined to around 2,000 to 2,500,” said Mr. Amiruddin, who has been in the toy manufacturing and marketing business for the last 45 years.
The pandemic has also forced many workers to scout for sundry jobs for survival and a further delay in the revival of the sector may see many skilled artisans being lost. Some artisans have shifted to being vegetable vendors or have entered the construction sector and their children do not view the manufacture of toys as lucrative enough. “This will have a bearing on the future of the traditional business if the artisans are not retained in the sector through higher incentives and other policy initiatives by the government,” said N. Kumar, president, Karnataka Artisans’ Welfare Association.
But Krishna of Kittanna Toys said that diversification and innovation has helped many manufacturers fare well despite the challenges.
“From the traditional dolls, many artisans have moved on to making utility items like mobile stands, kitchenware, educational items for children, and maps etc. This has helped them secure repeat orders and corner a market share,” he added. Notwithstanding the challenges, including a threat from China, there is a consensus that the sector can regain its glory and compete internationally provided there was government support like guaranteed higher wages, marketing, and other initiatives.
The manufacture of toys in Channapatna goes back at least 200 years according to most accounts and it has been traced to the era of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in the 18th century.
The fame of Channapatna toys was built on the smooth quality and bright colours of the products that were safe to handle.
“The Channapatna toys are laced with vegetable dyes and colours devoid of chemicals and hence they are safe for children,” say the toy manufacturers.