Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti (UMBVS) is a community-based organization that has succeeded in improving the social and economic status of handweavers in villages of Western Rajasthan. This article gives a narrative account of the formation of UMBVS and the changes in circumstances among traditional pit loom weavers who have joined UMBVS and received training in the weaving of new products for urban markets. The vision and persistent efforts of key leaders have helped UMBVS to thrive despite many challenges, not only in product and market development but also in generating the trust and participation essential to community development. The article includes the background of chief executive Ram Chandra Barupal whose commitment has helped weavers break the constraints of poverty. The author’s experience at the Urmul Phalodi Weavers’ Centre and nearby villages conveys the atmosphere of the place and the voices of the people.
Weaving New Freedoms in Rajasthan
Proud and industrious artisans were once the backbone of Indian economy, providing much of the goods and services that our people needed. Today these artisans have been marginalized by the modernization and industrialization of society. Though some have managed to adapt to changing times and a few have even thrived, most of them live in abject poverty with no hopes for a better tomorrow. (1995, Status Report of India’s Artisans) Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti (UMBVS) is a grass roots organization in rural Rajasthan that is well-known in India for improving the economic status of handweavers and contributing to the survival of traditional crafts. In a relatively short period of time, UMBVS evolved into a hriving community- based organization by building on traditional crafts skills and knowledge and bridging the gap between rural artisans and urban consumers. As a consequence of integrating craft and community development weavers and their families are finding new freedoms and possibilities.
UMBVS is one among many craft development organizations in India that are confronting the enormous challenges of establishing sustainable employment within viable craft communities. To name but a few others: Dastkar Andhra in Andhra Pradesh, SEWA Luchnow in Uttar Pradesh, REHWA Society in Madhya Pradesh and Jawaja Weavers’ Association in Rajasthan are several examples of organizations that address the needs of handweavers and help create conditions for sustainable social and economic development. It is my intention in this article to examine one such organization. I focus on the story of the Urmul weavers, including, the emergence and development of UMBVS, the role of chief executive Ram Chandra Barupal, and events I experienced during my visits to weaving villages. The common aims and challenges among different craft development organizations will be pursued in another article.
Journey to Urmul Phalodi
I arrived in Jodphur, Rajasthan, with my husband after an eleven hour overnight bus ride, 526 kilometres northwest of Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. The next morning David and I travelled four more hours by train to Phalodi, 125 kilometres away. We sat on wooden enches; open windows let in the warm November air. Going west from Jodhpur we entered a vast expanse of sparsely vegetated land. We passed dry cultivated fields and sweeping sand dunes and the train stopped at each town along our route. Men in white dhoti’s and turbans and women in colourful saris sat with us on the train.
I had arrived for my first time in India nine weeks earlier to begin research sponsored by a fellowship from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute. My intention was to investigate community- based initiatives that support the continuity of handweaving skills and knowledge in India. I wanted to learn about innovative education and development projects that involved handweavers. Beginning in New Delhi and continuing in Ahmedabad at the National Institute of Design, I talked with many people who were knowledgeable about the complex problems faced by handweavers in India. Now, I was on my way to Phalodi to visit a weavers’ organization that I heard was exemplary as a development initiative.
The train arrived at Phalodi station and we hired an auto rickshaw to take us to the outskirts of town where Urmul Phalodi Weavers’ Centre was located. We were greeted warmly at the entrance to a large stone-built complex and taken to a guest room on the second floor that opened onto a large balcony. Within a few moments of settling into our room, a student from the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi came to tell us that a jeep was leaving shortly for one of the weavers’ villages and we were welcome to come along. After a meal together, I climbed into the back of the jeep with the four students and we rode along a narrow highway, bouncing over potholes and raised sections of the road. Speaking loudly over the noise of the jeep, I learned that the students were doing a Craft Documentation Project, travelling from village to village in Rajasthan studying traditional handicrafts.
Pitloom Weavers of Western Rajasthan
After about twenty miles we turned off the main road onto a one lane paved road. Soon we were following a track across dry sandy soil, with the jeep kicking up dust until we stopped next to several mud houses with thatched roofs. We were taken to where a weaver worked. Hundreds of fine black warp threads stretched parallel a few inches above the ground, extending approximately fifteen feet from the weaver’s sitting position in a thatched roof shelter. A young man, seated on a thin cushion on the ground, passed a shuttle of fine black
cotton back and forth across the width of the warp. With his feet, the weaver operated treadles located in a small pit dug in the earth below the loom. The treadle action moved the loom harnesses which separate different groups of warp threads. With skilful fingers, the weaver quickly manipulated the yarn to make detailed design motifs in a black and white fabric.
This weaver was one of twelve men from his village of Bengiti who had been trained at the Weavers’ Centre and become members of UMBVS. Traditionally the weavers of this area wove plain cotton cloth for pattus (shawls) or woolen dhurries for floor coverings, working on traditional two foot wide pitlooms that are used extensively in India. During three months of training at Phalodi, they learned to weave new designs on looms of three, four or five foot width. They also learned about the aims of UMBVS. On completing their training, weavers could buy a new wider loom at half price and they were given yarns to start weaving designs on order.
Although many of the weavers of Bengiti were away from the village working in the fields until evening, we were taken to see one other weaver. A woman in purdah, face covered with a bright yellow fabric, was sitting at a pitloom just outside the door of her house, weaving a two foot wide piece with no design details. She had learned to weave five months earlier when three women from the village took part in the first UMBVS weaving training program for women.
Traditionally, men are weavers in most regions of India and women help by doing the tasks of winding yarn and making the warp. However, when women expressed interest to join UMBVS and learn to weave, a new training program was started. We returned to Phalodi as the sun was setting. Skeins of coloured yarn were spread out to dry all along the balcony railing of the Weavers’ Centre. That evening, Ram Chandra Barupal, Chief Executive, and Revata Ram, manager of income generation programs, visited us. With one of the NIFT students translating, we learned that two people who worked for Urmul spoke English and they would be arriving the following day. The fact that none of the managers of UMBVS know English is considered a problem for the organization because English is the language for dealing with the outside world.
The next morning, smells wafted up from juniper wood fires heating huge metal dye vats. We watched as two strong young men lifted a heavy metal rod holding about ten skeins of hot wet yarn that had been submerged in the vat. They carried the dripping weight over to a rack and then repeated these motions with three more rods full of dyed yarn. Then, wearing long rubber gloves, they washed each skein in soapy water, squeezing out the remaining water. Supervised by the dye manager, these men had learned the exacting process of yarn dyeing, and each month dyed approximately 120 kilograms of yarn needed by weavers to fill orders. In another room four men worked cutting woven cloth into sections for cushion covers, measuring and joining fronts to backs, and sewing finished edges. Across the hall, there was a storeroom with floor-to-ceiling shelves of colourful woven products, such as shawls, bedspreads, cushion covers and upholstery material. In this room, the stock manager receives new products from the villages and, after quality checking, ships the pieces to fill orders in metropolitan areas.
The weavers’ training area, a large room at the back of the building, was temporarily being used for making door and window frames for a new weavers’ centre in Pokhran about sixty kilometres away. The Phalodi Weavers’ Centre had become too small for the growing organization and a new much larger building was under construction.
Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti
Formally registered in January 1991, UMBVS began with seventy weavers from six villages. In 1997, membership had grown to one hundred and fifty weavers from thirteen villages in three districts of West Rajasthan. Weaving is central to the organization and other activities include: a women’s development program, an integrated rural development program, and the implementation of an extensive education program in conjunction with the Rajasthan Government.
Since its inception, the vision of UMBVS has been: “To establish a society free of inequalities and oppression.” The mission is “To organize the target group and help them to participate freely in all aspects of their development by making them more aware of their rights; to keep traditional craft alive by upgrading their skills.” The goals are to free weavers from exploitation by traders and middlemen, provide alternative marketing support and regular remunerative employment, and to bring about social and economic development, including the preservation of art and culture in a professionally managed environment (UMBVS unpublished report, 1997).
Before UMBVS began training weavers to make new designs and establishing markets to sell their products, weavers in many villages had stopped weaving. Some of them had been investing money in yarn, dyeing the yarn, weaving, and then taking their products to markets. Sometimes their work would sell, but often they lost their investment and had to take out loans from money lenders, which resulted in the loss of some of their belongings. Some weavers had arrangements with merchant-middlemen from big towns like Jodphur, Jaiselmer and Bikaner. The middlemen provided weavers with dyed yarn, but paid very low wages for the weaving while selling it at a good profit. Now, as members of UMBVS, weavers are paid at the end of each month by a production manager who picks up finished work and pays on a piece rate basis according to the size and detail of each design. UMBVS then sells their products to stores in major Indian cities and also for export.
Over a ten year period, UMBVS has emerged as a vibrant, successful organization through the energy and commitment of key people brought together during desperate circumstances. Ram Chandra Barupal is one of the key figures. On my last day in Phalodi I had opportunity to tape record a translated interview with him, learning how his vision and effort in the face of many challenges are integral to the Urmul story.
Ram Chandra came from a village in Jaiselmer district where the stony, rough land was not conducive to farming. He attended school until ninth grade, and then left against the wishes of his parents because he saw that his family was poor and he needed to earn some money. He did physical labour, including work in the salt mines. Although his father did not weave, Ram Chandra used to sit at his great uncle’s loom whenever the old man stopped weaving to go to eat. Sometimes Ram Chandra wove several inches, but got it wrong, or sometimes he broke a warp thread. Afraid he had spoiled the weaving, Ram Chandra ran away when his great uncle returned. But sometimes he got it right. At sixteen he decided to learn to weave. His family mocked him because they wanted him to go to school. So Ram Chandra worked alone to figure out how to make a warp. The first one took him seven days to make properly and then there were other difficulties with the loom set up. After twelve days of weaving he completed his first pattu which he sold in the market for 14 rupees. Out of that, ten rupees paid for the wool. Ram Chandra persisted even though no one supported what he was doing. Weaving appealed to him and he appreciated the historical and cultural aspect, knowing his ancestors had also been weavers. He thought weaving was a better way to earn money than doing tough physical work. Gradually he earned ten to fifteen rupees for his pattus above the cost of the wool. He began to weave for villagers who wanted his pattus while other weavers were selling outside the village. Later he began buying wool in bulk and having other weavers make pattus which he sold at fairs and outside markets.
Nobody in his village knew how to do the traditional embroidery weave. So Ram Chandra bought a woven pattu from a fair and over six months he perfected the technique of inlaid weft. Gradually he became known for his unique pattus. People could look at them and know that he had woven them. Since he was able to weave fast and his quality was very good, he began to earn up to thirty rupees for a pattu while others earned ten to twelve rupees.
When his family was in debt, Ram Chandra stopped weaving for two years to earn more money. He took out a loan to buy seed to sell. He sold food at hotels and at fairs. He bought sheep and goats, reared them, and took them to sell in big markets in Delhi. He invested in a fodder machine and made fodder for cattle. But he didn’t make a profit from any of this work. When the Government of India sponsored a famine relief effort in the nearby Bikaner district in 1987, Ram Chandra went to work there on a watershed management project, building a small dam. Whenever he earned some money he returned to his village and his loom to weave.
The Urmul Trust, an autonomous organization based in Lunkaransar in the Bikaner district, began work in the field of primary health care and non-formal education in 1986. A year later, Rajasthan experienced its worst drought of the century and people faced near starvation. Under the leadership of Sanjay Ghose, the Urmul Trust started an experiment in income generation based on dormant wool-related crafts of the region. Local women knew how to spin and the raw materials and equipment were available locally. Urmul Trust arranged to sell all the yarn that the women produced to a Government Khadi agency in the area. While six hundred women were employed in thirty villages around Lunkaransar, the Urmul Trust accumulated fifteen hundred kilograms of spun wool. However, the Khadi agency refused to buy the yarn because it was not produced by a certified body within their jurisdiction.
Sanjay Ghose and others at Urmul Trust began looking for alternative places to sell the spun wool. An itinerant salesman told them that the pattus he was selling had been made by the weaver, Surjan Ram, of the village Bhojasar. They went to meet Surjan Ram who was working with about ten weavers who filled orders for Jodhpur merchant-middlemen. After some discussion, a decision was made for Urmul Trust to supply wool to the weavers and then purchase everything they made on a piece rate basis. Dastkar, an NGO based in Delhi, helped Urmul Trust by arranging exhibitions and selling the woven products at city bazaars. Sanjay Ghose and Tarun Salwar (who joined Urmul Trust after completing studies at London School of Economics) saw the potential for a good income generation project in the weaving of pattus using the two traditional embroidery styles of the region, Bhojasari and Mhulani. They needed weavers who were able to do this, but only a few in Bhojasar knew the embroidery style. Surjan Ram suggested they go to the annual fair near Pokhran to meet weavers selling woven products. At the fair, Surjan Ram put Sanjay Ghose and Tarun Salwar in contact with two master weavers, who introduced them to another weaver who knew the Mhulani embroidery style. This weaver told them about Ram Chandra, who wove the Bhojasari embroidery style. In this way, a network began among the weavers who later became the managers of UMBVS.
Several people from Urmul Trust went to meet Ram Chandra. Impressed by his work, they asked him to weave for them and Ram Chandra started right away. Others from Urmul Trust and two designers from National Institute of Design (NID) made trips to watch him weave. They asked him to come and work for them in Lunkaransar, offering him a stipend of 450 rupees per month to learn new designs and train other weavers. At the time, Ram Chandra was earning more than 800 rupees by sitting at his loom. So he told them, “I’ll learn here. I’ve learned myself. Give me a new design and I’ll figure it out myself.”
He refused to go to Lunkaransar but they persisted and came back two or three times. When he did go, Urmul Trust again asked him to train local weavers in Lunkaransar. He said, “No.” There were weavers he knew in his village that he wanted to train first. After teaching them for one year to weave and do the embroidery styles, then he would be ready to train other weavers. Urmul Trust agreed to his condition of training weavers in his own village first.
Five weavers from the Phalodi district went to live in Lunkaransar and Urmul Trust laid the foundation for their knowledge about creating and running an organization. The weavers learned the basics of marketing, accounting and yarn dyeing. They learned to weave new embroidery style designs and products designed by a student from NID. Surjan Ram began working as middleman for Urmul Trust, taking wool to weavers in the villages and bringing finished products back to Lunkaransar. In the first year, they trained fifty local weavers. Few weavers in the villages were clearly informed about the Urmul Trust. They thought it was a rich international organization and they wanted to earn as much money as possible. The weavers produced in quantity, but their quality suffered and Urmul Trust accumulated a large amount of poorly made unsold products. Urmul Trust called a meeting of weavers and 150 attended. Sanjay Ghose explained Urmul’s objectives to the weavers, saying, “You are poor people who have been taken advantage of. We want to organize you into a group that one day will stand on it’s own” (Barupal interview, 1997).
Product-related marketing problems had to be faced. Pattu weaving was traditionally done in wool, but the market for new woollen products such as cushion covers was seasonal. And people living in the cities of South India did not want wool furnishings because even the winter months are not cold. With product and marketing advice from Dastkar, the decision was made to weave with cotton in order to reach a broader market and provide a steady income to weavers throughout the year.
There were also problems with the yarn dyeing being done in the villages. Because the colours bled, the popularity of products diminished and sales stagnated. After Ram Chandra and several others were trained at Lunkaransar in the use of new chemical dyes, the quality of yarn colours improved. Products started to do better in the market but there was still trouble with quality and with sending products on time. Some sections of Urmul Trust complained about the high costs of covering the weavers’ annual losses. They said they could no longer accept poor quality work. Sanjay Ghose and Tarun Salwar went from village to village to talk with weavers, explaining that Urmul Trust was a large institution with health and education programs and it was not imperative for them to support the weavers. They decided to shut down the weaving production for two months to emphasize the need to increase the quality of finished work, stop taking things for granted, and begin to stand on their own feet without depending on Urmul Trust. Only the very good weavers and the trainers continued weaving during that time.
In 1989, a meeting was called at Phalodi to discuss the formation of a weavers’ organization separate from the Urmul Trust. Subsequently, meetings were held in the villages to encourage weavers to become active in strengthening the organization. To instill a sense of ownership for the society, each weaver was asked to contribute 1000 rupees as capital; profits and losses would be shared by each member. According to Sanjay Ghose, UMBVS “was borne out of a
sense of desperation. They had to do something to get work otherwise they would have been reduced to absolute penury” (Ghose, 1992). UMBVS was registered formally and an elected executive committee was comprised of the five weavers who had been working at Lunkaransar. These leaders went back to Lunkaransar to learn more about running an organization. Each according to their interests, they learned about stocks, accounting, and marketing..
The UMBVS leaders wanted to leave Lunkaransar and set up their organization in Phalodi, a central location for the weaving villages of Jodhpur, Jaiselmer and Bikaner districts. Sanjay Ghose and Tarun Salwar were keen for the weavers to go on their own, but others at Urmul Trust did not support the idea. Instead of waiting and possibly not having any support for the idea later, the UMBVS leaders decided to leave for Phalodi. It turned out that half the weavers wanted to work in Phalodi and the other half wanted to stay in Lunkaransar. Some weavers mistrusted the leaders. They believed the leaders would exploit them, earn all the money, and do nothing for them. To settle the dispute, a compromise was reached and Urmul Trust sent four people to Phalodi to work there, including a manager, a designer, and an accountant. After a while the UMBVS leaders realized that the managerial staff sent from Urmul Trust had high expenses on marketing trips. The Urmul staff stayed in hotels that suited their higher social background. When costs were totalled the leaders realized how much profit was needed just to cover these expenses. They decided to manage without the staff from Urmul.
However, some weavers opposed this idea, continuing to mistrust the leaders and believing
that the presence of the Urmul Trust staff members ensured fairness. Despite the resistance of some weavers in the villages, the leaders persisted. They wanted the freedom to run the organization themselves. They knew they were being blamed losses that were due to a management problem. So they sent the staff from Urmul Trust back to Lunkaransar. Then the leaders were very strict about their own expenditures because they wanted to prove UMBVS could make a profit. They lived spartenly; they took buses, never taxis, and they slept in inexpensive tariff hostels where sleeping was outside. By the end of the first year in Phalodi, UMBVS made a profit. After covering the Urmul Trust losses of the previous year, the organization was able to distribute a bonus to the weavers. Receiving a bonus for the first time, the weavers finally believed in UMBVS and saw that the leaders could manage the organization on their own.
Living and working in a rented house in Phalodi, the weaver-managers were discriminated against because of caste. UMBVS needed their own building, especially for the training of weavers. A weavers’ meeting was called and the weavers decided to contribute to the purchase of land. UMBVS also applied for and received international funding from Action Aid and Save the Children’s Fund. In 1994, the construction of Urmul Phalodi Weavers’ Centre was completed and UMBVS began to train more weavers.
After a morning exploring the Urmul Weaver’s Centre, David and I were greeted by Kunjan Singh, returning from Bikaner. Kunjan had been hired by UMBVS as a designer after completing her studies at the National Institute for Fashion Technology eighteen months earlier. For her NIFT diploma project she had documented the handwoven textiles produced by Urmul weavers and she had created a design collection of home furnishings and apparel for production by UMBVS.
Kunjan invited us to go with several of the UMBVS managers to a meeting in the village of Karwa, sixty kilometres or about an hour and a half jeep ride away. After lunch, we travelled narrow roads through dry land, occasionally passing clusters of houses, or women walking with large bundles of sticks for firewood on their heads. At times we passed camels pulling a load of wood or a large metal storage tank for water. These sights were continually new for me. The spaciousness of the desert and clean air was a blessing in comparison to the crowded polluted cities of Delhi and Ahmedabad.
During the ride, Kunjan explained that a semi-annual meeting was held in each village to discuss whatever issues or problems of weaving production had occurred in the preceding six months. The UMBVS managers also share information about new designs, markets, and initiatives. Kunjan said the scope of UMBVS continues to expand and people from more villages want to become members of the society. Before a new village joins UMBVS, a detailed study is undertaken of the village, the people, the agriculture, economy, incomes, and resources. However, the managers do not want the organization to become too big and they train only five new weavers a year.
Arriving in Karwa about four o’clock, we went directly to an area adjacent to the weaving manager’s pitloom, where a long warp stretched out from the thatched roof shelter. The weaving manager and two elders greeted us. An Indian cot was put out and David and I were told to sit there. Everyone else sat on a carpet on the ground. We were served tea and Kunjan translated some of what was being talked about. We learned that the meeting would be delayed until weavers working in the fields returned at the end of the day. Kunjan suggested we walk around. There were several connected buildings belonging to two brothers and their families. A hard packed earth courtyard between a circular mud house and a rectangular stone house had been swept meticulously. We were introduced to the weaving manager’s wife who greeted us from behind her veil and spoke to us intently in Hindi. Children stood nearby looking at us curiously.
Walking further, I was attracted by a long blue warp stretching out from another weaving site. We were welcomed to go inside to look at the loom. When David asked about an object he saw hanging from the roof beams, the weaver took down a five stringed instrument, unwrapped its cloth cover and began playing. Within minutes a dozen young men appeared, some with small drums or hand cymbals, and together they played and sang. Kunjan explained later that they were singing a devotional song to Lord Ganesh who protects their weaving. It was a song about a weaver preparing his warp and being ready to weave.
While the men and boys were singing, I noticed the peg positioned a short distance from the warp beam on the right hand side of loom. The peg is tied with a rope that holds the warp in tension. Called the Viniak, another name for Lord Ganesh, this peg is the most sacred part of the loom. Each time a weaver starts to weave, he prays to the Viniak or touches it as a form of respect. During festivals he puts jaggery (ground sugar that is considered auspicious) on the Viniak as an offering of food (Singh interview, 1997).
Dusk arrived by the time we returned to the meeting place and were told that the meeting would not occur until late that evening. Ram Chandra said this was a good time for me to put questions to the weavers. Five Karwa weavers sat with two elders and my four companions from UrmulPhalodi. I was pleased to be given this unexpected opportunity. I asked: What is different now that you are weaving for Urmul? One young man said that now he has much more respect from people in the village. He used to take construction work to earn money, but now weaving lets him earn money and feel respected at the same time. An elder expressed the satisfaction of being respected for their work, in contrast to the sense of desperation that forced them to take anything in pay. There used to be competition; if someone asked 10 rupees for a piece another would undercut him by saying his weaving was only 8 rupees. Now there is a fixed price for each piece which everyone knows. “We are a community now,” he said.
It was dark when we ate dinner prepared by the weaving managers’ wife. Then David, the weaving training master, and I were driven back to Phalodi, leaving the others to stay in the village of Karwa for a late night meeting. The next day we joined them at a different village for another of the semi-annual meetings.
Weavers are traditionally lower caste people who have been oppressed for a very long time. According to Ram Chandra Bharupal, the most important achievement of UMBVS has been to help weavers break out of the constraints of the caste system. As they became united and formed a strong identity, they were able to fight back. Over time, there has been a significant psychological change, a feeling of relief and self-respect. Ram Chandra said, “You don’t have to drink water separately or pour it from a vessel untouched. It is a change to your psyche that you are not looked down upon so much anymore. It is no longer only the higher castes that are worthy. Weavers can say, “We are useful too. We too can sit on the chair. We can wear good clothes.”
In addition, weavers’ social and economic status in the villages has improved. Because of their success in earning a decent living through weaving, weavers are viewed differently by other villagers. Their voices are heard more often. Earlier, weavers worked for the well-off higher caste people. They took loans from them, and were indebted to them. Under UMBVS a new kind of prosperity has freed them from confinement of caste and low status. Very few weavers are in debt, but if needed they can take out a loan from the society. Women also can have savings and get loans. In order to initiate a women’s development program, the men who were weavers agreed to put thirty percent of their monthly pay directly into the wives’ accounts.
UMBVS managers are prepared to meet more challenges. Ram Chandra said, “It is a changing, dynamic process. When something demands that you learn, you set about learning it.” Recently they tackled the legalities and paperwork for government permission to receive international funds directly rather than indirectly through other organizations. The next challenge is to learn about forming a company and getting an export license to be able to bypass the middlemen in international sales.
Marketing continues to present major challenges. Although UMBVS has established reliable contacts they still need to assess and expand their markets. To fill export orders they have to maintain a high standard of quality because products with small flaws are sent back. They have to be very specialized and meet deadlines, and at the same time, take into account that weavers are farming during the four months of agricultural season.
UMBVS works through consultation with the weavers, who feel in turn it is their wishes being carried out, their organization being run. However, the UMBVS leaders are continually trying to involve more weavers in the community development process. Some weavers are initially concerned about their own welfare, but discussions at annual meetings, awareness camps and exposure visits teach them to see others’ point of view.
An enormous commitment of time and energy is required in the operation of UMBVS to bring the benefits of the organization to as many people in the villages as possible. Given the hardships that arise from extreme climatic conditions, rigid social system, and poor access to health and education programs, an organization that helps villagers break the constraints of poverty is highly regarded.
UMBVS builds on the skills and knowledge of weavers as a base for economic and community development, and in the process, contributes to the preservation of local culture, specifically, a unique form of handweaving. The Urmul Trust played an important role in bringing together the best weavers of the region for an initial income generation project, then giving the weavers access to knowledge and information that eventually allowed them to manage UMBVS on their own. Input from experts on product and design development and marketing was also essential in moving toward the weavers’ economic survival.
The vision and determination of Ram Chandra Barupal, along with the other weaver- managers, has been instrumental in the formation and ongoing development of the organization. The UMBVS managers have taken on immense challenges, keeping the needs of the village weavers continually in mind. Initially, competition made building trust and developing a sense of shared ownership a struggle. Weavers and their families are learning to overcome attitudes that have restricted them in the past; they are learning new ways of working and living in their communities. By being participants in the opportunities offered to them through UMBVS they are creating a conducive climate for preserving handweaving and achieving new freedoms.
Barupal, Ram Chandra. Interview by C. Jongeward, translation by Ardash, tape recording. November, 16, 1997. Phalodi, Rajasthan.
Ghose, S. 1992. The Urmul Experiment. In Report of the National Meet of the Crafts Council of India. New Delhi.
Satyanand, K. and Singh, S. 1995. India’s Artisans: A Status Report. Society for Rural, Urban and Tribal Initiatives (SRUTI): New Delhi.
Singh, Kunjan. Interview by C. Jongeward, tape recording. November, 8, 1997. Phalodi, Rajasthan.
Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti. 1997. Unpublished report, photocopy. Phalodi, India.
This article was published in 1998 in Convergence,31(4), a publication of the International Council for Adult Education
The author acknowledges the financial assistance of the Government of India through the India Studies Programme of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.