A mobile design bank for the rural artisans of Kutch was her novel idea
Chanda Shroff was blissful in her domesticity in suburban Mumbai, comfortable as the housewife of a chemical factory owner. Then, in 1969, on a visit to her drought-hit hometown Kutch, she pitched in with the relief work of the Ramakrishna Mission. Shroff was struck by the traditional embroidery on the clothes of the local women and thought the unique craft could be used to generate regular income for them. "They could take charge of their own fate through a skill they were adept in," says Shroff.
That was the beginning of Shrujan.
About 16 kinds of embroideries are prevalent in Kutch, which are a means of self-expression and are closely linked with the region’s ecology and culture. Shroff’s idea was to package the local, hand-embroidered textiles into garments and lifestyle products for urban and international markets. "I wanted the city money to flow into the villages," says Shroff.
‘Kaki’, as the women affectionately call her, started off with a group of 30; today, she provides sustainable means of livelihood to about 3,000 women from 114 villages.
Shroff’s untiring efforts have made her the first Indian laureate winner of the Rolex Awards for Enterprise. She received the award at a high-profile ceremony in Singapore in the presence of the country’s President S.R. Nathan. The Rolex awards, given every two years to five laureates and five associate laureates, were set up in 1976 to celebrate people’s pioneering spirit and ground-breaking initiatives in diverse fields like environment, technology, culture. "It recognises individuals who are advancing human knowledge and well-being," says RAE programme director Rebecca Irvin.
So, besides employment generation, Shrujan’s aim is also the conservation and spread of regional craft. In 1995, Shroff set up a design centre on wheels which houses a design bank and goes to remote villages to educate and develop skilled artisans. She began with a bank of 8-10 patterns and now has 1,100 design panels. "It’s my legacy for younger generation of craftsmen," says Shroff. She’ll be using the US $100,000 prize money for upgrading the skills of her workers and for further development of her design bank. She intends setting up a living and learning design centre, a handicraft museum, workshop, school and library rolled into one. Her aim: "I want every village in Kutch to sustain itself through its heritage and culture."
Contact Behind GEB Sub Station, Bhujodi, Bhuj—370020, Kutch, Gujarat Tel:91-2832 240272
ourtesy -Outlook (subscription) - New Delhi,India