one of the largest districts of India - but home only to about two million people has fundamentally changed after the earthquake of 2001. It has got greater access and integration with the markets, more investments into the area and the general economy appears to be different. An interesting statistic - the decadal growth of population, which was between 20% and 25% from the 1971 census, seems to have shown a spurt to 32% in the decade of 2001-2010.
The significant products that could go out of Kutch were salt and handicrafts. There was an organised way in which salt from the Rann of Kutch was being procured and processed; the fish and agri-products were largely consumed locally.
No Geographic Identity
Handicrafts had a somewhat limited market access to the outside world, thanks largely to some NGOs working in that area. While Kutchi handicrafts were famous, there was little creative identity that was associated with the district. Or to use the language of patents or markets, Kutch did not seem to have a product that would fetch a Geographic Identity - unlike Tanjore for paintings or Kanjeevaram for silks.
Kutchi embroidery for long was popularised by Gurjari, and like anything that gets popular and exotic, it had its own clones - machine-embroidered pieces as well as some cheap handicrafts that came from China! But that was not enough to threaten the livelihoods of the artisans.
The artisans of Kutch were and continue to be versatile than specialised. You would find leather workers making saddles for horses, jootis and bags. For instance, I visited a leather artisan Ramji bhai a few years. He was happy making one horse saddle a month to keep his livelihood going. He had a captive market in the district and anybody who owned a horse knew that saddles were made by Ramji bhai. No global analysis of counting the number of pet horses that could have ornate saddles and classifying it as a ’sunset’ industry would threaten Ramji bhai’s happiness .
Rogan artists working with vegetable dyes and castor oil to produce the most intricate paintings: These artists have gotten smarter and significantly benefitted from the largesse offered by the post-earthquake linkages with the outside world. A Rogan painting that had a maximum price tag of around 20,000 soon after the earthquake could now go on to 10 times that amount. But the artists are so few in number, almost one single family in Nirona.
The Wadhas did their own lacquer ware straddling between shaping babool wood and also adding colour. Their market was somewhat limited because of the limited range of products they produced. Again, blissfully happy at brewing local liquor !
Close to Gandhian concept
The handloom weavers wove cotton, wool, acrylic and any other medium that was needed at a point and the cloth woven was adorned with Ajrakh prints or tie and dye Bandhani colours. It was a potpourri of art forms co-existing, without clustering or volumes to access the markets. If a Rabari needed a shawl, that would be woven with wool, a bedsheet of cotton and of late, even a mat is being woven out of waste plastic. Kutch was nearer to the Gandhian concept of village republic than any other place.
Courtesy: The Economic Times