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SAI’s Livelihood Creation project is underway on the ground in India. The research project, supported by the Tata Trusts, aims to build knowledge and capacity around three key areas: rural livelihood creation (emphasis on the handicrafts and handloom sectors); educational, social and economic empowerment of women; and science and technology-based interventions for poverty alleviation.

By Shashank ShahProject Director

An artisan working on a brass product in Anwesha

An artisan working on a brass product in Anwesha

Last week our SAI Team continued its journey to interact with organizations that have made a difference in the crafts sector in rural India. We journeyed to East India, and covered the culture and handicrafts-rich states of Odisha and West Bengal. In this post, we share our experience in Odisha.

Odisha is the 9th largest state in India and 11th largest by population. It is known for its variety of temples and culture, handicrafts and handlooms. The field visits helped us understand the diversity and richness of crafts in the state.

The first visit was to Anwesha Tribal Arts and Crafts, an organization that started in 1990. It primarily works with the tribal people of Odisha in around 200 villages. As per the 2001 census, the scheduled tribes constitute 22.1 per cent of about 40 million, the total population of Odisha; and 9.7 per cent of the total Indian population. Given the complexities involved in working with the tribal populations of India, especially in terms of different dialects, customs, traditions, and also difficulty in terms of physical access to the interior tribal villages, some of which may be located in the midst of mountains and dense forests, this was a noteworthy geography that Anwesha has contributed to.

SAI team at Orupa

SAI team at Orupa

The organization has a whole range of items made of brass including jewellery boxes, lamps, statues of different Indian deities, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc. Brass work is a very complex craft as the artisans have to work with high temperatures to melt the metal and make intricate designs. Dambarudhar Behera, the Secretary of the Organisation, explained to the SAI team how Anwesha makes an impact on the tribal communities of Odisha. Our team bought some brass articles and earrings. It turned out to be a good deal as the prices were far reasonable when compared to similar articles in showrooms and shops!

The second organization our team visited was Orissa Rural and Urban Producers’ Association (ORUPA), also founded in 1990. ORUPA works with artisans in all the 30 districts of Odisha. It is involved in a mind-boggling variety of arts, each having their own nuance, manufacturing process, resource requirements, and skill sets. Some of them include bamboo craft, coir work, lacquer work, silver filigree, stone carving, wooden toys, tassar painting, etc.

Given that Odisha has been blessed with an abundance of natural resources, most of the art and craft forms reflected the usage of these resources in innovative ways. Ashok Kumar Sahu, who has been with the Organization since its early years, explained to our team how the organization has made a difference in the lives of around 25,000 artisans since its inception. This is among the largest reach we have seen by a single organization in our visits so far. Benefiting a thousand new artisans consistently for over a quarter century speaks volumes of their commitment and scale of work. He further shared ORUPA’s plans of continuing its journey to help the rural artisans of Odisha in sustaining the rare art and craft forms for posterity.

Next week we’ll give you insights on our visits to the City of Joy – Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal and a former capital of India during the British Rule.

Updates from the field: The craft sector in Southern India

Updates from the field: Livelihood Creation Project begins field visits in India