Introduction

The dispersed and decentralized handloom and handicrafts sectors embody the traditional wisdom, cultural wealth and secular ethos of our polity. They are not just a source of livelihood for lakhs of weavers and artisans, but also environmentfriendly, energy and capital saving and labour-intensive forms of art that have secured India’s presence in millions of homes across the globe; a presence that has been crafted by dexterous hands, many of whom are among the most marginalized sections of our society in both rural and urban areas. The two sectors also reflect the binding force that unites various diverse segments of the population, encouraging co-existence of communities from different faiths, cultures, classes and castes, thereby strengthening the secular, cultural, social and moral fabric of the country.

Owing to their importance in India’s development and livelihood policy, the Government of India has introduced various policies along with programmatic interventions for the handloom and handicrafts sectors, aimed at generating sustained, productive and gainful employment with decent working conditions for the entire weaver, artisanal and ancillary worker population. While a majority of the programmes have yielded positive results, several factors – demographic, social, technical and cultural – have led to a situation of only partial fulfillment of the policy objectives. Consequently, the extent, nature and structure of employment creation and sustenance in these sectors remains a major concern for policy makers. In addition, inadequate infrastructure, poor marketing support and ailing distribution networks has weakened an already fragile supply chain system.

Of particular concern in this scenario is the steady erosion of livelihoods in the crafts and handloom sectors due to increased competition from machinemanufactured products. On one hand, lower-priced industrial products are displacing craft products amongst lower-income consumers in both urban and rural 8 markets. On the other hand, craft products are facing increased competition from branded, value-added products amongst higher-income consumers, especially in urban areas.

With the absence of a concerted, market-oriented approach to revitalize the sector, improve service delivery and efficacy of schemes, India is closer today to losing a heritage that could be its greatest competitive advantage in a homogenous global marketplace. The impact of the economic downturn has been most severely felt by weavers and artisans, majority of whom belong to the marginalized social groups. They are, therefore, far more adversely impacted when faced with market fluctuations and infrastructure gaps as well as the challenges posed by the growing machine-made products. In this context, the formulation of a suitable strategy for development and revival of these sectors in the 12th Plan assumes greater significance.

In this context, the 12th Five Year Plan is a unique opportunity to make a decisive and permanent change. The Steering Committee on Handlooms and Handicrafts has suggested that there be greater convergence between Handlooms, Handicrafts, Khadi & Village Industries. The same will be attempted within the Planning Commission. This will mainstream handlooms and handicrafts as legitimate branches of the small and micro-industry in India and diminish the artificial divisions that compartmentalise administration of common sectors. It is suggested that the first venture of this synergistic endeavour be a brand building and sales exercise under the trade name of “Handmade in India”.