Shrujan, a Gujarat-based women’s organisation is one success story that can be emulated by some missionary entrepreneurs or NGOs to provide employment and save traditional crafts. It is a case study for Indian handicraft makers trying to compete in the global marketplace.
Chandra Shroff, the housewife of a factory owner, by a chance, pitched in with the relief work of Ramakrishna Mission in her hometown, drought-hit Dhaneti in Kutch in 1969. The traditional embroidery on the clothes of the women there struck her. She thought of using the unique craft to generate regular income for those women. Shroff started Shrujan. A group of 30 women got together to earn a living from the only skill they knew- traditional hand embroidery. About 16 kinds of embroideries prevalent in Kutch reflect the culture of the region. Shroff thought of and packaged the local, hand-embroidered textiles into garments and life-style products for urban domestic and international markets. She succeeded. Today over 3,000 women spread over 114 villages are part of the Shrujan family and another 22,000 have been benefited. Efforts are on to train local craftswomen to assume roles of designers, saleswomen and teachers.
And Shroff 73 now, became the first Indian to win the Rolex Award for Enterprise. It is a distinction that came with a $100,000 cash prize and personally inscribed gold Rolex chronometer, and its share of international attention.
Shrujan has created employment for those women who could have never thought of it. It helped in conservation and spread of regional art. Shroff began ”Pride and Enterprise” initiative to inspire younger craftswomen to recognise richness of their craft and created 1,200 hand-embroidered display panels representing work of 600 rural craftswomen. In 1995, Shroff setup a mobile resource centres that houses a design bank and takes the panels to educate and develop skilled artisans and craftswomen in far-flung villages. The idea is to empower them financially to ensure a better standard of living. With the money of the award, Shroff can endeveour to fulfill many of her plans, such a setting up a living and learning design center, a handicraft museum, workshop, school and library in the region.
Rural India has huge population of talented and needy women folks in every part of the country with lot of skills in their hands and very innovative mind. I remember my own grandmother, mother, and then Yamuna with mastery in stitching art and knitting marvels. Madhubani art in Bihar, Chikkan stitching in UP, Kantha of West Bengal, and similar traditional crafts in other regions too have potential to get globally accepted, packaged well and marketed smartly. Everyone coming from the rural India will agree with me. But there are very few Chandra Shroffs.
I wish our IIMs and the students of the fairer sex in particular take some special interests and initiatives for setting up the production centers based on the skill available so cheaply in rural India that can be marketed well in global market place. Only these endeavours and empowerment where the rural India gets into production of marketable products can create mass employment that can take most of the households out of the curse of poverty and sufferings. I wonder why our administrators are not working on these ideas proven by dedicated workers like Shroff, and allowing the traders and middlemen, be it in Varanasi or Lucknow in UP, Madhubani in Bihar, or Pippali in Orissa to take the maximum monetary advantages of the hard work and skillful crafts of the people engaged in traditional creative professions.