When the SWRC started working with craftsmen in the early 70” s it was from the perspective of poverty eradication. Crafts were by products of this endeavor and after two years of struggle from 1974 to 1976 donors accepted the fact that the funding of craft was part of their agenda. OXFAM was just beginning to set up BRIDGE at that time.
Craftsmen and women mainly belong to Dalit communities and minorities Working with them was a priority for Tilonia.
When Tilonia began working with craftsmen, three skill groups were identified – leather, weaving and handicrafts. While leather and weaving involved upgrading and diversifying existing skills handicrafts involved training need groups in different skills. With the traditional craft groups, credit was a priority. Work included freedom from bondage (lending by traditional money lenders) and breaking stereotypes by using institutional finance. With weaving lost its caste taboos with the entrance of the handloom, new market relationships involved experimenting with newer technology and design. With leather, bag tanning gave way to Eastern India (EI) tanning of hide. Bag tanning meant being ostracized by people who used the stench as rationalization for continuing with untouchability. The “Reagars” a caste groups finally settled for buying EI tanned hide from Ajmer, Agra, Kanpur and Ahmedabad. Designs were changed. A whole range of designers came and went. The craftsmen learnt about the process of design and catering to a new market.
This is a distinct and palpable change for the better, in the lives of the craftsmen who continue to use combination of design, finance and marketing.
Women however continue to be unskilled in marketing. They come either from working class Dalit groups where no handicraft skill exists, or from society oppressed groups in purdah like the Rajputs and the Muslims.
In associating with Tilonia’s craft work, the women have acquired craft skills, enough to earn supplementary incomes. They have been encouraged to understand accounts and acquire a minimum functional literary. Personal hygiene, child birth, birth control and the use of the local Panchayati Raj institutions are also important aspects of their education. While they have learnt to design many things, their literacy levels and social restrictions on mobility outside the Development Block, continue to restrict their marketing skills and confidence.
he number of craftspeople working now with Tilonia does not reflect those trained or those who have benefited from this process.
Last, but not least, SWRC set up the first example of a development agency entering the area of craft improvement and design as well as marketing for alleviating poverty. The bazaar concept so popular now, began with the Tilonia Bazaar way back in 1975, when craftspeople went to sell their goods in different place around the country.