On 14 May 2015, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Najma Heptullah launched a major welfare scheme in Varanasi, aimed at preserving and upgrading traditional arts and handicraft skills, in a move that will benefit thousands of traditional craftsmen, many of whom belong to minority communities.
Upgradation of Skills and Training in Ancestral Arts/Crafts for Development (USTAD) is a Rs 17-crore initiative to preserve and promote traditional skills and ensure wider market access. Launching USTAD in Varanasi holds political and social significance.
Varanasi has been a traditional manufacturing center and trading hub for hand-loom weavers. There are over one lakh weavers in the region of which over 40,000 remain active. In addition, there are thousands of support workers and tradesmen who are involved in ancillary activities like dyers, card makers, design artists etc.
Varanasi is a traditional home to the famous Banarasi saree, while nearby Bhadohi is the hub for carpet weaving and trading. A large section of the weavers involved in both industries come from the minority community, and therefore, USTAD becomes relevant both politically and socially. Besides, it’s also Prime Minister Modi’s constituency.
Savior of the dying art
With large number of workers involved in this sector across India, the government has been keen on ensuring that this segment becomes a part of the ‘Make in India’ initiative and receives full support from government in terms of funding and infrastructure.
USTAD will draw professional inputs and support from organisations like National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad along with other focused institutions to assist in creating programmes that will ensure higher acceptance of traditional products by a diverse clientele.
A very good example of a traditional industry is the jute industry. It is based mostly in West Bengal and had been struggling for many years with low demand, obsolete technology and dropping prices. With closer involvement of the private sector, leading designers got involved in developing a range of products, garments and furnishings based on jute, and today these are slowly making a mark in global markets.
In a unique move, the government has roped in e-commerce company Snapdeal to offer its platform to promote traditional craftsmen and products. If promoted adequately, this would be the first time that craftsmen in interior India will get the opportunity to showcase and market their unique offerings to a wider audience, something that was out of reach earlier. The potential is immense for both artisans and the support industry.
With the present government completing one year in office, it can boast of launching a series of welfare programs. Let’s hope USTAD draws support and involvement from all stakeholders, after all it involves India’s heritage.
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