The national turmoil triggered by demonetization is acknowledged to have had its most serious impact on India’s ‘informal’ sector that constitutes up to 80% of the economy and depends critically on cash for survival. While signals have come in about distress across the hinterland, the impact of demonetization on craft communities is still unknown. What is clear is that in addition to the long list of all that still needs to be done for India’s artisans, there is now an additional need for capacities to cope with an increasingly digitized economy. With margins of error in the craft sector already slender, what can activists do to turn disruption into opportunity, and to speed new skills within communities already struggling in markets transformed by global competition?
Recent bad news suggests how casually the interests of millions at the margin can be disregarded by the powerful. The good news may be that today young ‘artisan entrepreneurs’ --- a term reflected in the Economic Census 2012 --- have a capacity to respond that is astonishing and deserving of response. Just days after currency notes were demonetized, Somaiya Kala Vidhyalaya (SKV) brought to Ahmedabad a team of four ‘artisan-designers’ to present their collections at a gallery show: Aslam Abdul Karim Khatri, Purshsottam Premji Vankar, Rajesh Vishramji Siju and Talha Gulam Khatri. Mentored by Judy Frater, the team came prepared to speed billing by swiping cards so as to leave more time for customer interaction. Lessons learned in e-commerce, merchandising and point-of-sale efficiency were now quickly applied to the cash crisis --- professionalism in practice. Buyer-seller interaction focused on design, technology and market trends. The conversations were about ideas and choices, and the values and realities which drove them. Sales reached record levels, and demonetization was never mentioned.
A few days later this Kutch team joined with other craft colleagues in a round-table organized at the I...
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