Handloom and handicraft industry is the backbone of the rural economy of India -- it's the second largest rural income provider after agriculture. These artisans are spread across the country working in different crafts forms with clay, metal, wood, stone, ceramic, gems producing lifestyle accessory products.
Official estimates suggest that India is home to seven million artisans most of whom are in rural and semi-urban areas, however, data from unofficial sources indicates that the number is as high as 200 million. This bracket is huge and the reason for this disparity is the informal and unorganised nature of this sector.
The fundamental reason for these problems lies in nomenclature. "Over the years, it has become clear that we should stop calling the sector handicraft and handloom. We need to call it creative manufacturing," says Neelam Chibber, co-Founder of Industree Foundation that works with rural artisans to set up collectively-owned enterprises close to their homes so they become a part of mainstream value chains. They have impacted 1,75,000 producers directly and indirectly.
Chibber adds that handicrafts sector fall under Ministry of Textiles even though there is nothing common between them. "The problem starts from here because we are treating handicrafts like handloom where there is nothing common between the two, except that both are produced by hand," she says.
Handicrafts as a sector also has huge inter-connectivity with several Ministries: first is the Ministry of Textile, second is MSME as a lot of the handicraft organisations are micro, small and medium enterprises. There is also an interface with Ministry of Rural Development, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, even Ministry of Culture.
Despite this, she suggests that a new ministry should be created. "Ideally, a new ministry for cultural creative manufacturing should be created to ensure the cultural element of handicrafts doesn't get lost."
This is because this sector has potential to be the biggest job creator for the country. It has the lowest capex investment required. Artisanal production also allows government to do rural development and create livelihoods for people in rural India instead of getting them to migrate to cities. "It is the pathway to build a more inclusive economy in terms of job creation," she says.
The reason is simple. India is sitting on the world's largest workforce with the most diverse skills available doing sustainable production. The new ministry will focus on solving problems unique to this sector, such as solving for distributed manufacturing at scale. "The government needs to think to scale up this distributed model of workforce and look at the production in this sector in a modern scientific manner to make it globally competitive," she says.
If done right, this sector can be the largest vehicle to Atmanirbharta.