The abandoned Tribal Artisans Of Wayanad & Uthhan

“Sleeping is healthy, but decades of drowsing means we are dead”.

WAYANAD- The name has it all. The mystic beauty of forest, foggy mountain ranges, winding roads, meet with wild, adventure treks etc. But the tribal artisans in this heaven are leading a fire and brim stone life. It’s a place near to heaven, but unlike heaven the tribal artisans are not accoutered with angelic powers. Otherwise they should have bartered their beautiful artifacts for keeping their grieving families happy. Their brilliance in craft work is astounding. But they are struggling with poverty and hunger. I was on a one day visit for our CSR initiative called UTHHAN to enroll struggling tribal artisan families at Wayanad, supported by Artisan Development Organisation (ADO, an organization for hereditary artisans), headed by my father Mr. Thamarakulam Ravi. Two good Samaritans named Mr. Rajappan and Mr. Poulose were the coordinators to show these tribal artisan families.

The roads were narrow with alluring coffee plantations on either side. The place was Trikkaipetta. It is a paradise with greenery all around with the true smell of soil. The artisans of Trikkaipetta create marvels out of bamboo from generations. These can be used as show case items, key chains, flower vases and so on. Raju PK and Gopalan headed the crafts production. The leg of Gopalan is paralyzed and with this disability he was able to produce artifacts in a shorter period. The entire family was happy seeing our team in the hope that something exemplary will occur in their life.The roof of the house has so many holes, which is like bullets pierced the roof during a gun battle. They have explained about the process of modeling with an exuberant zeal. Their happiness lies on making these bamboo products. They have created many an unpolished designs, being not able to afford buying a polish. They are creating bamboo products from ages, with the skill inherited from their ancestors. But the agony in their eyes can be felt easily. They served us with black coffee and biscuits. The black coffee was sublime and oozing with typical Wayanad flavor. We shared some of the customized bamboo craft designs with them. We encouraged them by elucidating about the reach and demand of bamboo products in the market. We embolden them that in UTHHAN, artisans decide the product price and not by us. Moreover they are still clinging on to their tradition after all these setbacks.

The next stop was Mullankolli. A woman, who heads a self-Help unit, which makes artifacts out of grass welcomed us. A group of women suddenly assembled with their products made of grass. The products were flawless. It can only be made after hours of hard work, precision and concentration. These crafts can be used as fruit baskets, hats, flower vases etc. They testified that big establishments take their products in bulk, but the prices proffered are very low. But they still sell the products to lessen their miseries.

The products

The products are strenuous to make and the mastery passed on to them through their primogeniture. They don’t want to continue in this métier, since there is no real emolument. Workplace is nothing but a torn out house, where all the women gather and spend their time making these artifacts. They don’t have any idea about artisan craft board run by Government of Kerala. They told us that the tradition they follow can’t feed their family and it’s better to switch over to some other job.

Biju’s family at Mundad is in dire straits. Biju is deaf and dumb. The will power of this person is amazing. We can’t even think straight under pressure. But he is not only fighting out his life, but also created these models out of coconut shells. The tools used are very simple. We sat on a bench which can break at any time. The bench was the only luxurious furniture in that abode. We were able to understand his joy, when we compliment the quality of his products. Our driver has given biscuits left in our car to his kids, who were glad to accept the same. Their way of living arouse dejection in us. He goes for labor work to prop up his family.

But his passion to create these artifact products is not extinct. His mother was gabbling unabated about his son’s talent. She is proud of him, so are we. We were unsure about the craft’s durability, since the bondage of joints can be vulnerable. The strong joints and strength of the products brush aside all our suspicions. The products can be easily shipped without any damage. We have purchased some products, after enrolling them to UTHHAN. He apprised us in sign language that he can produce these crafts in bulk, if we give orders. The money earned out of these products can fulfill their basic needs. There was a ray of optimism in his gaze, which we want to nurture to save this dying tradition.

No handicraft products can be created without stabilizing these families. It’s a pity that the purpose of forming an artisan organization is only to cheer personal benefits and photo ops. Most of the organization leaders are not even craft workers. They can mass-produce only verbal jugglery, not a single handicraft product. The Government is busy accumulating tax from the public to feed their administrators. Social media pages don’t have space for artisans, since they are busy sharing unwanted communal jibes and celebrity sex scandals. Media is behind TRP and artisans are unable to build up TRPs, except handicraft products.

The artisan families  go for forced labour work to sustain, even though the demand of handicraft products are huge in global market. Their children hate this profession because this valuable skill can fetch only poverty and hunger.

UTHHAN is currently feeding 2000+ artisan families like Gopalan, Raju and Biju by molding self-sufficient artisan groups. You can’t find us in main stream media, since we work only for uplifting artisan families without any political motive. We buy raw materials and tools for these families from your contributions. We want you to buy their products from UTHHAN store, which will support these families for a better living. The product prices are reasonable, because of  zero middle men involvement.

Let the Government, Politicians and Artisan leaders sleep, we will wake up to lift up our artisans, who are the ambassadors of Indian Culture. The drizzle of rain on our return may be the tears of pain and helplessness of many tribal families. But we believe that the downpour will end up in to sunshine. Because many of us have a kind heart too.

* UTHHAN- Empowering artisans is the first initiative in India, where the profit from artifact sales goes directly to artisans without any middle men.

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