Since inception in 1892, the Tata Trusts, India’s oldest philanthropy, has played a pioneering role in bringing about an enduring difference in the lives of the communities it serves. Guided by the principles and the vision of proactive philanthropy of its Founder, Jamsetji Tata, the Trusts’ purpose is to catalyse development in the areas of healthcare and nutrition, water and sanitation, education, energy, rural upliftment, urban poverty alleviation, and arts, craft and culture. The Tata Trusts’ programmes, achieved through direct implementation, partnerships and grant making, are marked by innovations, relevant to the country.
Sharing his experiences with India CSR’ Rusen Kumar for Leadership Series in an interview, Sharda Gautam, Head of Craft, Tata Trusts gives an insight on the goals and objectives of Tata Trusts’ craft-based livelihood programme – Antaran. Excerpts of the interview:
How is Antaran building an ecosystem for the traditional handloom practices in India?
Antaran, a key intervention of the Tata Trusts’ craft-based livelihood programme, was initiated to bring seminal changes in the development of the craft sector. The comprehensive programme aims to rejuvenate ailing handloom clusters through an end-to-end intervention, beginning with a pilot initiative in 6 lesser-known handloom clusters across four States in India.
The overarching objective is to transform these six pilot weaving clusters by creating artisan led microenterprises across each element of the value chain. Incubation and design centres have been set up in these clusters as one-stop destinations for buyers, designers, researchers and craft lovers. Antaran-led community initiatives across four states and six clusters are in: Assam (Kamrup and Nalbari), Nagaland (Dimapur), Odisha (Gopalpur and Maniabandha) and Andhra Pradesh (Venkatagiri).
What is the role played by Tata Trusts’ Antaran in safeguarding the interests of handloom artists in the country?
Antaran since its inception has strived to evolve and create systems and methodologies that enable artisans to become enterprising weavers who hold the capacity to conduct business, create new designs and support weavers deeper within the layers of their community. The initiative has been designed keeping in mind principles of Core strength of Handloom textiles is in natural fibers, hand spun yarn, natural dyes and in weaving different designs in shorter warp lengths. All efforts towards strengthening weavers, pre-loom and post-loom service providers be directed towards ‘gradually’ building the core strength and allied eco-system in the selected clusters.
Weavers earn most when they are enabled to speak to markets directly. All efforts towards upskilling and reskilling should be directed towards empowering weavers in the direction of entrepreneurship and self-employment. Interventions should be organic, enabling and rooted in traditional knowledge. Longer duration of the program allows time for this to happen.
Every weaver is different and will learn and absorb different elements of the program at different pace. For example, some weavers would be more interested in design, some in entrepreneurship and some simply to improve their technical skills. Team is cognizant of the specific needs and nurtures the weavers to building on their core strength.
Antaran works towards strengthening craft ecosystems, building core strength of handloom textiles such as natural fibres, hand-spun yarn and natural dyes, while reviving and reinterpreting the traditional weave designs in these selected clusters for wider markets. Larger aim of the programme is to prove that traditional skills can still be a viable means of livelihood for artisans in rural areas, and especially rejuvenate the sagging handloom sector by bringing it into focus through this intervention, since millions of weavers still depend on their craft for survival.
Please highlight some of the diverse collections launched by Antaran in recent times.
Each craft developed through the Antaran platform has a unique character, representing a rare cultural and traditional context of their respective regions. Extraordinary weaves inspired by cultural influences and materials only add to the flavour of the rich heritage our country represents.
Eri and Muga silk from Assam are traditional fibres that have been in the region for centuries. Exquisitely woven Muga silk sarees and Eri silk stoles blended with cotton and extra weft motifs are simply marvelous and elegant. A few artisans are maintaining natural dyeing as a part of their textile creation, which adds more to the value and authenticity of their textiles. A true representation of the natural beauty of Assam, a new collection of handcrafted Ghamosas – the ceremonial, traditional cloth of Assam has also been developed by the weavers in the Nalbari region associated with the initiative.
Loin loom weaving of Nagaland in the past year has reached a new pinnacle in its design intervention. Women weavers who were only creating shawls, stoles and bags mostly in acrylic, have created a whole range of eclectic designs in cotton home soft furnishings.
Sarees, stoles and fabrics in fine single weft ikat from Maniabandha, Odisha are ones to look out for. Designs that bring out the ingenuity of the traditional craft in new and contemporary colours make them special. While some weavers are focusing on harnessing what works best for them with respect to a particular heritage design, young weaver entrepreneurs are also venturing into new colours, custom made fabrics for their clientele.
Tussar and gheecha sarees, stoles and fabrics from Gopalpur, Odisha are perfect examples of a diverse range one single natural fiber can offer. With Antaran intervention, artisan entrepreneurs have not only found their distinct style but also ventured into product diversification. Many collections in the recent times have been inspired by the various ceremonies connected to their rich culture – such as Durga Pooja collection of sarees, stoles and fabrics, Heritage sarees inspired by Ghoda Nabami, Contemporary stoles inspired by the Asta Prahari ceremony observed by the people of Gopalpur.
Silk and cotton silk zari sarees of Venkatagiri are a live example in history of replicating a single design into innumerable possibilities. Earlier nurtured and preserved by royal patronage, the finely woven zari sarees of Venkatagiri require meticulous construction. The cluster has been able to maintain a distinct quality different from other zari techniques of the south. The unique use of Jamdani style in cotton and cotton silks has proliferated among the artisan entrepreneurs, redefining the craft into something fresh.
What is Antaran’s long term goal and vision?
Antaran is committed to facilitate methodologies that are effective and customised to suit the pace of fast-growing home-based small businesses. Antaran aims to enable and make artisans understand the significance of how positioning their craft correctly, and reaching out to the right customer is crucial. The team envisions to create an emancipated group of artisan entrepreneurs who redefine craft as not just a means for bread and butter but as inspiring brands which lead the way for other craft techniques to empower communities and preserve their rich cultural heritage.
A message to the readers in context to National Handloom Week.
Handloom and craft have for long been a part of our ecosystem. Each ceremony across cultures and religions is incomplete without a special shawl or textile with a meaningful story or custom behind it. Though commendable that crafts have sustained so long without much support, we truly owe it to the rich culture which makes our country unique in the world. While current times have fortunately given a platform to spread its wings, it is our responsibility to remain connected to our craft forms – the only way and a first step to help preserve it for posterity. It is imperative that artisan communities upgrade but mutual sensitization of the customer towards the craft is equally crucial.
Buying and being patrons will not only help sustain the art form but also encourage innovation in design and fresh techniques and make the art form live forever. Appreciating and valuing handloom in turn will encourage a deeper understanding of the time, effort and selfless investment of the craft communities in preserving our environment with eco-friendly production techniques.
(India CSR Network)