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Keeping Indian crafts alive: Andhra shows the way
Tuesday September 10, 2013 10:00 AM, Azera Rahman, IANS

Time was when every craftsman desired for his child to carry on his tradition into the next generation, just like in most other families. This isn't exactly so in today's commercial day and age, leading to the possible loss of an art form for ever. But help may be at hand.

The Crafts Council of Andhra Pradesh (CCAP) has begun an initiative that enables children to learn the nuances of art forms from their parents, while their education is simultaneously taken care of.

"Crafts and craftsmanship in India has been a dynamic art for the past 20-25 years, changing with the changing times and economic needs. We may say that traditional crafts should not die out, but there is no point in thinking of purity of crafts without looking at things from the craftsman's point of view. Like anyone else, he too is looking for economic stability," Meena Appnender, secretary of CCAP, an NGO that promotes crafts and craftsmen, told IANS.

Strongly advocating a support system for craftsmen, Appnender said that given the changing economic situation, the community needs a good reason to continue its craft in the face of other viable means of livelihood.

"In Andhra Pradesh, engineering is a dream profession. I came across a weaver whose five sons had all done engineering and are now working in multinational companies. He is very happy," she said. "We realised that people are losing interest in passing on their craft to their kids. Moreover, others who may be interested also cannot enter the profession because a craft is specific to a caste."

To address the issue at its root, CCAP decided to start a scholarship programme this year for children of craftsmen through their school years, support them into getting admission in a good design school and later equip them to market their craft. The only condition is that the child should learn nuances of the craft from his or her parents throughout.

"We identified 30 children in the age group of 12-18 (classes 6-9) from different craft clusters. For the first year, the scholarship is of Rs.2,000, next year it's Rs.3,000, and so on until class 9. Then, in class 10, 11, 12, we have put an extra Rs.1,000 to the scholarship. The logic is that by the time a child turns 16, the parents expect them to earn and support the family," Appnender said.

There are seven crafts CCAP works with: Puttapaka (weaving double Ikkat), Banjara needle work, Silver filigree, Cherial (scroll painting), Ettikopaka (lacquerware), Kondapally (wooden toys), and Kalamkari.

"A master weaver or craftsman is given the responsibility to monitor that the children are learning something about the craft from their parents. After completing school, if a child shows interest, we will support it into getting into a good design school, where it can learn about modern techniques, and later we will equip it into adapting its craft in the retail market," Appnender explained.

But how can supply be sustained if there is no demand? Just like craftsmen's children are encouraged to continue their tradition, the CCAP is also urging schools in urban set-ups to make their children aware of the value of such crafts and patronise them.

"Honestly, it's been a lukewarm response from schools since the time we approached them two-three years back. Only seven-eight schools have had the workshop in which we invite a master craftsman to come with his tools and show how he creates things," Appnender said, adding that most schools expect a year-long programme to be conducted in which students are involved in the whole process - raw material to final product - with the craftsmen.

"But the traditional crafts of Andhra Pradesh are not so child-friendly that a child can do the whole process by itself. Our aim is more about creating awareness through demonstration, maybe linking crafts to social sciences, so that there is respect for the craftsman's work and ultimately a good market," she explained.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.rahman@ians.in)




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