In the year 1989, a new district called Kandhamal came into being in the heart of Orissa, predominantly home to backward and tribal communities.
The district is still mired in poverty.
Agriculture is the major occupation but as it is largely rain-fed, income is uncertain. Education and infrastructure is poor, resulting in limited livelihood opportunities.
While many things have changed, for better or worse, the legacy of Dhokra crafts has remained with the people of Barakhama village in Kandhamal.
There are presently 125 artisans here who produce black Dhokra items such as ornaments and items of decoration and utility, the designs inspired by tribal culture and tradition.
Dhokra products from Barakhama are unique as Barakhama is the only cluster where black Dhokra is produced using a process of oxidisation. This gives the product an antique black finish unlike their shiny counterparts.
A lack of innovation, adaptation and modernisation has made the products non-competitive in the market disincentivising artisans. The art of Dhokra making rests mainly with the elders and the wives of men who migrate in search of work.
The youth keep away as they consider the craft financially unrewarding due to a lack of modern facilities and market linkages.
Communal unrest has also contributed to large scale migration and displacement, leaving few interested in Dhokra making.
Darbar Sahitya Sansad (DSS) is a non-governmental organisation and Rang De impact partner which believes that given the right training and market exposure, Dhokra craft making can be made profitable for Barakhama’s artisans.
Reviving a dying art, restoring identity
DSS has undertaken a craft based livelihood promotion project in Barakhama under which 33 low skilled artisans will be covered. After undertaking a detailed study, five focus areas have been identified.
Design will be improved by employing reputed designers. Market intelligence will be documented. Forward linkages will be established with export houses and showrooms. Craft mechanisation and tools will be provided to increase the efficiency of artisans.
Skill training programs will ensure the efficiency of artisans.
Lastly, social empowerment initiatives such as provision of ID cards, insurance and banking to artisans will also be undertaken.
As a first step, DSS has already carried out initial discussions with potential customers in Orissa (focussing on tourist hot spots such as Puri, Konark, Bhubaneswar), Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore.
By undertaking bulk production, DSS anticipates sales of Rs 4 lakhs each month and is confident that each artisan will be able to earn a net income of at least Rs 4,000. The sale proceeds, after meeting wage payments and loan repayments, will be reinvested into the project.
Rang De is raising a working capital loan of Rs 5 lakhs for DSS’s Dhokra project. This sum will be used to meet the costs of training, materials and wage payment to artisans.
The project also has the backing of TATA Trusts and NABARD.
As India surges ahead with high economic growth, many of our rural communities risk being left behind — communities that carry a treasure trove of art, culture and heritage.
Rang De is proud to be associated with DSS to preserve such art and thus improve the lives of artisans.
Do join us as a social investor and lend a hand to Barakahama’s talented Dhokra craftsmen.