By Fast Kashmir on 25/10/2017.

Usma Jalal &   Dar Javed



Millions of people who possess traditional skills and knowledge make a living by producing traditional handicrafts. In India, more than 330 million people are engaged in the informal sector, of which traditional crafts sector occupies a large chunk. Here, it is prudent to define traditional handicrafts before discussing about its innovation and creativity. The following definition of traditional handicrafts can be found in the extant literature in the Indian context:

‘Items made by hand, often with the use of simple tools, and … generally artistic and/ or traditional in nature. They include objects of utility and objects of decoration’ (Definition given by the Development Commissioner of Handicrafts, Government of India, as quoted by Liebl and Roy, 2003a).

It would also be relevant to state the    definition of handicrafts or traditional craft, given by UNESCO/ITC (1997): ‘Artisanal products are those produced by artisans, either completely by hand, 0 r with the help of hand tools or even by mechanical means, as long as the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most substantial component of the finished product. The special nature of the finished products derives from their distinctive features, which can be utilitarian, aesthetic, creative, culturally attached, decorative, functional, traditional, religiously and socially symbolic and significant. ‘

Notwithstanding the importance of and the role played by the traditional crafts, the crafts and the craftsmen have never been given due importance. The role played by the traditional handicrafts in the economy of any country has never been assessed and explored properly. It is needless to mention that traditional handicraft has a tremendous scope of developing the quality of the artifact through innovation, diversification, quality control and marketing.

“Handicraft  is  the  second  largest  source  of  employment  in  the country,  after  agriculture.  Yet  India’s  hand  industries  are  in  a crisis  of  misunderstanding.” Crafts  council of  India-2011

“According  to  the  United  Nations,  over  the  past  30  years,  the number  of  Indian  artisans  has  decreased  by  30%,  indicating the  need  to  re-invest  in  artisans  to  safeguard  history,  culture and  an important source  of  livelihood.” William  Bissel,  MD,  Fabindia .

Today,  an  argument,  an  attitude  faces  crafts  and  artisans  in India.  This  is  the  argument  of  economics,  of  sustainability,  of marketability,  which  is  the  argument  of  financial  survival  (Crafts Council  of  India-  April 2011)   One  question  is  still  unsolved and  unanswered.  What  is  the state  of  Craft  &  craftsmen  in  India?  This  question  carries  a  huge and  thick  question  mark  at  its  end. India,  no  doubt is a  very  big  country.  It is  big  also  because  of its  diversity  and  racial  character.  More  than  3000  castes,  432 tribal  communities,  believers  of  Hinduism,  Islam,  Christianity, Sikh,  Jain,  Buddhism  and  Zoroastrian  have  been  living  together since  centuries.  Over  1650  dialects  are  spoken  by  the  people  of India.  The  harmony  among  the  people  of  India  is  worth mentioning.   The  planners  and  policy  makers  of  India  have  been addressing  many  problems  and  concerns  of  this  country.  They are  also  addressing  the  need  of  the  craftsmen  and  their craftsmanship  but  probably  the  issue  is  so  vast  and  complicated that  the  issue  has  not  been  touched  in  complete  form.(  Gandhi National  Centre  for  the  Arts-  Under  UNESCO’s  Programme  on Cultural  Industries  and  Copyright Policies and  Partnerships)

“An  estimated  71%  of  artisans  work  as  family  units  and  76% attribute  their  profession  to  the  fact  that  they  have  learnt  family skills.”Fab  India

While  crafts  received  royal  and  aristocratic  patronage  during pre-Independence  days  and  played  a  central  role  in  Gandhi’s independence  struggle,  they  have  slowly  lost  relevance  with  the advent of  industrialization.   Currently,  the  sector  carries  the  stigma  of  inferiority  and backwardness,  and  is  viewed  as  decorative,  peripheral  and  elitist. This  is  compounded  by  the  Government’s  treatment  of  crafts  as  a sunset  industry,  which  has  resulted  in  a  lack  of  well-developed policies  and  programs  to  protect  and  strengthen  the  ecosystem for  artisans. Traditional  crafts  have  largely  been  marginalized  by  mass produced  consumer  goods,  which  tend  to  be  cheaper  due  to  the economies of  scale  associated  with  mechanization. The  nature  of  the  crafts  sector  and  challenges  faced  by artisans  reduces  their  ability  to  compete  with  machine-made products  .Catering  to  the  mainstream  market  often  necessitates  a decline  in  quality  and  /or  workmanship,  leading  to  the  eventual loss  of  skills  over  a  few  generations.


Design  intervention  is  a  process  that  involves  designing  new products;  redesigning  existing  products,  with  changes  in  shape, size,  colour,  surface  manipulation,  function  and  utility;  exploring new  markets  and  reviving  lapsed  markets;  applying  traditional skills  to  meet  new  opportunities  and  challenges;  and  the introduction  of  new  materials,  new  processes,  new  tools  and technologies.   It  is  seen  as  an  interface  between  traditional  and  modernity, that  matches  craft production  to  the  needs  of  modern  living. Design  interventions  have  a  very  important  role  in  every  step of  the  process  in  creation  of  the  craft.  They  should  focus  on  the identity  of  a  craft,  its  social  and  cultural  relevance  to  its  region, and  the  processes  and  materials  involved,  to  incorporate  the interventions  in  the  right  situations,  with  efficient  expected outcomes  and  reasoning’s.(Design  Intervention  and  its  execution in  Crafts  of  India-  Amrita  Panda) Design  interventions  also  assist  in  creating  an  awareness among  artisans  of  methods,  materials,  tools,  processes  and clientele  base.   In  many  cases  the  artisans  of  a  region  have  lost  or  rather  do not  have  a  documented  form  of  the  craft.  Traditional  crafts  are memory  based,  and  only  memory  is  the  knowledge  bank  of  their traditional  methods  and  materials  (Design  Intervention  and  its execution  in  Crafts  of  India-  Amrita  Panda)

REVIVAL OF  DYING CRAFTS  : We’re  living  in  a  new  golden  era  of  good  design,  and collaboration  between  designers  &  craftspeople  is  largely  the reason  to  be  thankful  for. As  consumers,  we’re  more  aware  of  materials  now  –  not  just their  visual  and  sensual  appeal,  but  also  where  they  come  from, why  they  matter.  We’re  more  curious  about  how  things  are  made and  who  made  them  (The  Craft of  Design-  Joyce  Lovelace-2013) Collaborative  innovation  between  designer  and  craftsperson is  a  means  of  expanding  the  craft  vocabulary  and  tapping contemporary  markets.  It  is  also  argued  that  a  link  between  the apparently  conflicting  tenets  of  sustainability  can  be  achieved through  responsible  and  strategic  design  innovation  which integrates  the  social,  economic,  ecological  and  cultural  aspects.  ( Rebecca  Reubens  2010) It  has  now  been  recognized  that  indigenous  innovations  are crucial  for  any  developing  nation  in  order  to  achieve  cumulative growth,  both  economically  and  socially.   These  innovations,  as  they  will  be  mostly  in  the  form  of appropriate  modifications  in  the  existing  products,  will  require further  critical  interventions  and  hand-holding  efforts  for  their transition  into  markets.   Design  intervention  can  help  bring  in  the  much  needed empathetic  understanding  and  holistic  vision  to  connect  and integrate  the  various  efforts  towards  a  positive  outcome.  One would  come  across  amazing  indigenous  innovations  in  India  that can  be  developed  into  marketable  products  and  thereby  help  in creating  business  success.  These  could  provide  vital  directions for  a  country  like  India,  to  transform  into  an  innovation-driven economy.  (  Ascertaining  the  Scope  for  Design  Interventions  for their  Successful  Commercialization-  Ravi  Mokashi-Pune)

While writing conclusion of this i and usma feelinhat  perhaps the following quote from a United Nations document gets its place in this write up: “It is truly sad, whereas in Europe and North America, the view is being taken that the future must be handmade (for economic, environmental and social reasons). India is yet to articulate a craft future in a realistic, practical way that respects not just the issue of cultural identity but equally the force of Indian craft in the economy.”we believe that let the traditional craft be traditional but in order to create a niche market the design,new patterns ,change in  motifs,innovation  is the need of the  hour.

Usma Jalal is project coordinator,  HELP Foundation srinagar and  Dar Javed is a Craft management design graduate.
They can be contacted at

[1] Craft  and  Design-What’s  the  Distinction  ?,  by  Howard  Risatti-(2008)
[2] Design Intervention & Craft  Revival Harita  Kapur *,  Suruchi  Mittar **