The Crafts Council of India’s relationship with Pattamadai is a long and enduring one.
CCI in the early 90s had encouraged this cluster to submit well woven mats for the National Awards selections. Ibrahim Beevi was the first to receive this prestigious award in 1993. This was the ‘awakening’ of the public to the wonders of this craft. This was followed by the Geographic Indicator registration and the Pattamadai mat weavers have become well known not only in Tamil Nadu but in other parts of India as well.
CCI has continued to work with them ever since with design and quality inputs and marketing assistance. Many of them are regular suppliers to CCI’s craft shop ‘Kamala’ in Delhi and Chennai.
Besides working with the women, for over ten years CCI has been running the ‘Educate to Sustain’ programme for artisans children at Pathamadai. The program aims to ensure a value-added education for the children. Apart from the modest stipend they are paid for completing their schooling, weekend classes are held in their family craft to ensure they retain their traditional skill.
The products developed by the children are displayed at our craft bazaars.
In November last year, CCI had conducted a week-long dye workshop to introduce a new color palette.
This year, despite the pandemic, we managed to have a skill-building workshop at Pattamadai.
The Government of Tamilnadu and The Crafts Council of India joined forces to impart training to the Women Mat Weavers of Pattamadai at Tirunelveli. The 100 hours skilling programme designed by the Tamilnadu Skill Development Corporation (TNSDC) under SANKALP (Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Programme) funded by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and World Bank, implemented by The Crafts Council of India involved training in financial literacy, digital literacy, design interventions, and tailoring. The training was given to a group of forty women from the Lebbai community who are already familiar with pattamadai mat weaving.
This film captures the essence of the workshop and showcases the products developed.
For more details on the Pattamadai project please write to The Crafts Council of India at: [email protected]
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The Crafts Council of India works relentlessly to revitalize craft communities, to help them pass on the traditional knowledge and skills to the next generation.
The ‘Educate to Sustain’ (EtoS) program is a testimony to that.
Classes in mat weaving over the weekend have been well attended at Pattamadai. In a recent skill assessment for the next generation, Development Commissioner Handicrafts conducted in 2020 10 girls were given certificates for proficiency in mat weaving.
Weekend classes for the children of artisans in the program have proved to be very popular in West Bengal. In Panchmura and Bishnupur, Raj Gope, a designer has been conducting sessions with the children for over a year. Classes in Natungram will start soon.
A roadblock for the Vinayaka makers
For the better part of their lives, the potters and clay workers of Villupuram used to makeplaster of Paris Ganesha idols. Hundreds of them each year. Big, tall ones, small squat ones, standing ones and dancing ones, in dazzling festive colours. Most of them, men and women, were born into families of clay craft artisans and it was the only work they knew.
In 2010, with a rise in environmental awareness
The artisans would be engaged in this craft all year round, stocking up for Vinayaka Chaturthi when the big annual sale would take place. Customers would throng theirwarehouses to take their pick for the festival, which would be celebrated with the glorious images, privately in homes, or publicly on major streetsides and village crossroads. Theearnings from this once-a-year bumper sale would sustain the craftspeople for the rest of the year. Life was good.
Then came the pandemic, shattering their thriving livelihood.
Some mere days before the festival in 2020 their godowns were sealed to prevent the crowds of shoppers but to the artisan community it seemed like the doors were shut on their very lifeas it were. The rest of the year went in trying desperately to pay back loans and keep their families from starvation.
Whatever hope of revival they may have had for 2021 is now clouded by the fear of a third wave of the pandemic and the looming threat of another long lockdown.
This is the story not in Villupuram alone. There are similar clay worker communities in Pollachi, Thiruvannamalai, Kallakurichi and Kancheepuram. The lockdowns have dealt a body blow to all of them. The loss of the annual sales is only a part of the anguish. The line upon line of large unsold idols filling up the godowns for 16 months is a millstone round their necks. The very real possibility of the coming monsoon damaging or even washing away the massive stocks, ironically made to be water soluble, is another anxiety.
Despite their large numbers, running into a few thousands, the artisans were never eligible forbank loans because those require a surety and monthly payback. They cannot afford collateral and their earnings come only once a year. Their source of funds for raw material, which run into lakhs of rupees, are the village money lenders. These people, after long months of missed payments, not to mention interest, have turned into angry foes. Craftsmen are selling their homes and sleeping on pavements or in the hot, shuttered, airless godown
“At least then nobody will come around asking for their payment…” says one of the craftsmen, dully.
A heartbroken comment from a people whose only livelihood has been in the service of Vigneshwara, the god who is said to remove all obstacles.
Much is spoken and written about state and central assistance for farmers and for thehundreds of small and medium enterprises in the mechanised sectors. Yet the crafts sector,which employs the largest number of people after agriculture, astonishingly gets left out of the safety net. The clay workers of Tamil Nadu are a small example. It is time to shine a light on their plight, and that of artisan communities all over the country, to save and support them before they and their precious skills are erased from the social and cultural map of India.
The Crafts Council of India responded with urgency and deep commitment to India’s craft artisans hit by the devastation wreaked by the Covid 19 pandemic. As reports of artisans facing hunger, loss of work and markets, desperate poverty and even death came in, along with desperate cries for help. CCI set into motion its multi-pronged strategy of help, succour and rehabilitation. They were helped in their mission by collaborating with civil society organisations. CCI’s help intervention included distribution of dry ration packages to artisan’s families, medicines to combat disease, hospital expenses and monetary help to those in dire need as well as financial aid to small artisan entrepreneurs. Finances for CCI’s help packages were sourced from the CCI Artisan Relief Fund with donations. CCI’s help to artisans is based on a prompt study of the situation and an equally prompt response. Letters of gratitude and thanks from the craft recipients bear testimony to the validity of CCI help.
As the pandemic goes up and down in waves, CCI’s help to needy artisans remains steady and ongoing.