Economic Impact of Artisans and Their Crafts

Craft, Handloom, Art, Craftspersons/ Artisanal, Economics, Employment/ Livelihood, Policy

Economic Impact of Artisans and Their Crafts: An Up-Date

Chatterjee, Ashoke


When enumerators from the national Economic Census 2012 knock on your door later this year,  give them a special welcome. Census 2012 is going to be hugely significant for CCI and all crafts activist in the country — and you may well be part of the preparation the enumerators will have gone through in order to do their job. That job is linked to CCI’s “Craft Economics & Impact Study” (CIES) which was completed last year (see Learning Together, Newsletter February 2012).

The February Newsletter attempted to keep members informed of developments that have followed the submission of the CEIS to Government, soon after the Study was shared at the Business Meet last August. The Study and its recommendations were then reviewed by a partnership group which came together at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi in September. That was when members of the CEIS team (Raghav Rajagopalan, Gita Ram, Manju Nirula, Shikha Mukherji and I) met with key officials in the Planning Commission and at the Office of the Development Commissioner. CEIS had an impact. Early in March, the Commission called a series of meetings bringing together activists from civil society and a range of Ministries and Departments at the Centre who are (or should be!) concerned with the wellbeing of artisans and their crafts. Those discussions on the CEIS and related experience have proved hugely significant. The CEIS premise (which echoed concerns expressed earlier in discussions with stakeholders leading up to the 12th Five-Year Plan) was accepted that national data currently available on the sector is dangerously inadequate. It does not reflect in any way the size and scale of the contribution which artisans make to the national economy. It was also accepted that unless this foundation of facts is rectified, policies and schemes as well as investment in the craft sector will continue to miss the bus.

At the Planning Commission, two decisions were taken that will have far-reaching effect. One was to include crafts and artisans in the 6th Economic Census 2012. Another was to follow the Census with a ‘Satellite Account’ specific to the sector, which will provide details which cannot be captured in the Census 2012 focus on ‘commercial establishments’.  Following these decisions, the Central Statistical Organization (CSO) and the Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) have looked at CCI for support on next steps. These have included the framing of guidelines and key questions to be used by field enumerators to correctly identify craft activities and artisans, development of tools and materials to be used in the Census process (including in the training of enumerators and their supervisors), a listing of activities and processes involved in 40 selected crafts identified by the DC(H), and linking these to established statistical codes used to classify commercial activities for Census purposes.

The materials developed for the Census include generic and state-specific illustrated maps (developed by CCI with a team of researchers coordinated by Vidya and Gita), bringing together available information with the 560 crafts analysed in “Handmade in India” (Aditi and MP Ranjan, NID), using that publication as a key resource.  PPTs are also being prepared to use field examples that can sensitise Census staff on the processes and activities involved in craft production, and the numbers/levels of artisans that need to be included in the understanding of ‘artisans’ and craft production.  This has been a huge task, carried out by a small team at the CCI office in Chennai, with support from Manju and the Delhi Crafts Council office.

The Census 2012 surveys commercial establishments, i.e. of products and services exchanged in the marketplace. The Census will provide broad indicators of the size and contribution of the craft/artisanal sector to the economy. It will include as ‘commercial establishments’ those who produce for market sale and where the activity of respondents represents more than 180 workdays in the year  —- thus excluding many activities in the sector that are beyond these limitations, such as seasonal work that does not extend over 180 days.  These exclusions can be of critical importance to craft activists, as well as other details such as the contribution of women artisans, the invisible half of the sector. These important aspects will be covered by the more detailed analysis of the sector to be made through the ‘Satellite Account’ that is to follow the broad outlines revealed by the Census 2012.  Hopefully, data from the Census will be enough to provide a wake-up call to the nation on the importance of crafts and artisans, and begin the process of reforming national policies and programmes. The crunching of data emerging from the Census 2012 will take time (60-100 days after the Census’ field process is completed). Therefore there will be ample opportunity to understand and use the data as it emerges so as to influence the Satellite Account process. Studies may be needed in preparation for the Satellite Account, and CCI intends to be an active partner in these preparations.

Raghav, Manju and Gulshanji represented CCI at a May 4 meeting at the Planning Commission, where progress on Census/Satellite Account was reviewed. Of particular importance were two issues. One was the understanding that handloom production would be integrated with the Census’ understanding of ‘craft’. Another was the ‘guideline’ that has finally emerged to help describe the sector:

Handicrafts are items made by hand, mostly using simple tools. While they are predominantly made by hand, some machinery may also be used in the process. Skills are normally involved in such items/activities, but the extent thereof may vary from activity to activity. These items can be functional, artistic and/or traditional in nature”.

The challenge of ‘defining’ crafts and artisans has been a major one. A workable definition had emerged years ago at the time of the 8th Five Year Plan. The CEIS suggested a definition based on it. Things got complicated when the Supreme Court issued its own definition — one that was directed at resolving export legalities, not at national data requirements! A ‘guideline’ was needed to address a concern within the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Statistics on distinguishing between crafts and other handmade products (papads, pickles, bricks, bidis etc) that Government does not want to include in its understanding of crafts/artisans.  The matter came up again at a June 1 meeting at the CSO, attended by Gita, where the Census 2012 time-table was worked out.

Field work will begins after the rains in October, continuing till August 2013. The important issue for CCI is to assist the training that will soon begin throughout the country to sensitise enumerators and supervisors to their field tasks. Details of the training process will emerge from a meeting in New Delhi in late June. Meanwhile, CCI has been asked to assist by identifying resource persons in every region who can be associated with the training process, sharing their knowledge of local crafts in the local language. The support of State Councils and other partners will thus be critical as so much now depends on successfully and quickly sensitizing and ‘educating’ enumerators and their supervisors to the sector. By the time this Newsletter appears, several readers will have been contacted and involved.

The range of materials being developed in the course of these efforts will also be of great use and benefit to all craft activists. These can help ensure that future planning and field action are more focused. In addition, the Planning Commission is considering research studies that can support the proposed Satellite Account. It has also expressed its concern to better understand the problems and aspirations that are driving artisans today, most particularly those of the younger generation. Here again are opportunities for advocacy, and for the changes we have all felt so necessary in the way official agencies reach out (or fail to reach out) to artisans through existing schemes — as well as on changes needed within the NGO sector.

That, in a nutshell, is where we are today.  So keep in mind all that is at stake when Census 2012 comes knocking at your door!



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