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New growth trajectory of Assam handicraft

Assam traditional handicraft items such as Assamese japi, bell and brass metal works, cane & bamboo products, masks, Assamese jewellery are important cultural & identity markers

Assam handicraft

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  30 Sep 2022 3:33 AM GMT

Assam traditional handicraft items such as Assamese japi, bell and brass metal works, cane and bamboo products, masks, Assamese jewellery are important cultural and identity markers for indigenous communities of the state and growth of the sector is critical for preservation of the rich traditions. Handicraft artisans' families and entrepreneurs are grappling with a plethora of problems like non-remunerative prices of products due to lack of market support, non-availability of affordable raw materials and lack of capital. The crisis has de-motivated the younger generation of many artisan families to look for alternative livelihood opportunities and migrate outside their villages, which, if not checked may lead to vibrant cultural practices fading out fast and rich knowledge of some of these craftworks being lost forever. Adoption of The Handicraft Policy, 2022 by the State Government is a laudable initiative but its implementation is not without challenges. The policy seeks to "create, support and sustain an enabling environment for the development and growth of the handicrafts sector and for generating sustainable livelihood of people engaged in this sector across the state and to preserve and evolve traditional craft and artisanal skills and so that they may remain an integral part of cultural fabric of the state of Assam." It also seeks to remove the constraints that have affected the growth trajectory of the sector. Some of the issues hindering the growth of the sector listed in the policy document are: old production techniques leading to higher cost and resultant compromise in quality, production schedules not in synchronization with orders, product design and development not based on the market requirement, non-availability of raw material of proper quality, standard and specifications, non-standardization in product pricing, lack of convergence with other government departments/schemes and lack of capital (absence of access to credit especially for working capital requirements). The policy defines handicrafts to be item or product produced through skills that are manual, with or without mechanical or electrical or other processes, which appeal to the eye due to the characteristics of being artistic or aesthetic or creative or ethnic or being representative of cultural or religious or social symbols of practices, whether traditional or contemporary. These items or products may or may not have a functional utility and can be used as a decorative item or gift. It also accepts a wider definition adopted by the UNICEF and International Trade Centre Symposium which says that "Artisanal products are those produced by artisans, either completely by hand, or with the help of hand tools or even mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product. These are produced without restriction in terms of quantity and using raw materials from sustainable resources. The special nature of artisanal products derives from their distinctive features, which can be utilitarian, aesthetic, artistic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant". The broader definition facilitates enlarging the list of producers, products and processes and draw up a list of 15 recognized crafts. The policy provides for raw material support through establishment of raw material banks, forest-based raw materials such as bamboo, wood, lac, stones for sculpting etc., mineral-based raw materials to artisans and establishment of raw material banks in handicraft clusters. It envisages undertaking a baseline survey of production of every type of handicraft in the state and utilizing the database so created for implementation of various programmes and for providing support. Expeditious completion of the baseline survey and compilation of the datasets is crucial for drawing the roadmap of implementing the policy. The policy makes it mandatory to obtain a photo identity card to be issued by the Industries and Commerce department for availing all incentives under the policy and, therefore, drawing up a comprehensive and updated list of the artisans based on the baseline survey should get the prime attention of the executives. Adequate budgetary allocations are necessary to translate the policy provisions for various fiscal incentives such as capital investment subsidy for handicraft unit/raw material bank, marketing assistance, interest subsidy on working capital, online marketing, assistance for participation in fairs, exhibitions within the state as well as outside etc., a reality for artisans and other stakeholders. Making the process of availing these incentives simple and fast will be crucial to ensure reaching out to optimum number of artisans and generating more avenues of livelihood in the sector, more particularly in rural Assam. Lessons must be drawn from failures of similar interventions in the past to addresses the problems faced by the traditional handicraft industry. The greater challenge is to prevent the policy being reduced to some government schemes of doling out incentives. Equal participation of artisans, entrepreneurs is the key to put the traditional handicraft industry on a new growth trajectory.

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