Even as the global demand for Indian handicrafts is on the rise, the industry here is caught in the midst of a dilemma. The increasing number of orders is good news indeed, especially coming after a bad recessive year, when the buyers for handmade Indian crafts significantly dropped. But a serious dearth of skilled workers is threatening the industry’s growth prospects. The shortage of skilled artisans is not a sudden event as the numbers have steadily been dwindling over the past years. There are many reasons why the children of artisans and the younger generation craftsmen are turning away from these traditional crafts:
Lack of consistent demand
This industry, by its very nature, is fickle where the demand is concerned. The demand is predominantly seasonal with Christmas time bringing in almost unmanageable bulk orders while the period beyond that is almost dry. Young artisans find this massively fluctuating demand unnerving and feel that they cannot depend on this unpredictable industry for their livelihood.
Absence of guaranteed earnings
Due to the fluctuating demand, it is very difficult for Indian artisans involved in traditional arts and crafts to earn a steady income all through the year. In comparison, a government job or employment in the organized sector ensures a guaranteed monthly salary. As artisan families are rarely affluent enough to get by without earnings from the sale of their handmade wares, the lure of an assured paycheck month on month is naturally enticing.
Lack of access to buyers
The Indian handicrafts market is highly disorganized. Only a handful of the more enterprising craftsmen have links with the right dealers and government showrooms. This allows them to reap the benefits of proper marketing and organized sales. For the others lost in the by-lanes of the massive country, reaching buyers is a tough task in itself. International tourists only visit known repositories of traditional wares like advertised showrooms and government sponsored exhibitions for their purchases. Craftsmen practicing their trades without such backing remain undiscovered.
Lack of regulation
In the absence of strong government regulation of the handicrafts market, traditional artisans get only a fraction of what their pieces actually sell for in the global markets. Although many efforts are on to bring these master craftspeople to the market directly, the changes have not permeated to all levels of this industry. Unless all craftsmen get fair pricing and have steady demand throughout the year, keeping the tradition alive is going to be a difficult task.
The waning interest among the next generation of craftsmen in taking up their ancestral trade is evident at shows and exhibitions. One can see that nearly all stalls at such events are manned by elderly artisans, well past the age of retirement in business parlance. The youngsters are not keen on working long, hard hours for meager and unpredictable earnings. There is no answer yet to the one question, that haunts the thoughts of these master craftsmen: “Who will keep my art alive after I am gone?”. It can only be hoped that some timely intervention will save the exquisite Indian crafts from waning away.