years ago a young woman burnt herself to death in a
Rajasthani village. The drums of a wedding procession
drowned her screams till it was too late for us to help her.
For Dhapu just 30, the mother of five children, lively,
bright, beautiful, the pressures of having to take on the
support of her widowed sister-in-law and her family of four,
proved too much. Her husband’s income as an
agricultural labourer in this particularly dry, deprived
part of Eastern Rajasthan did not match his sense of family
honour. Ironically, sadly the group of us who rushed – too
late – to save Dhapu from her self-immolating flames were
working to create economic alternatives for women just like
her. Today – as part of the Dastkar Ranthambore
Project – Dhapu’s eldest daughter Indira, her widowed
sister-in-law, and her sister-in-law’s daughter Pinky, are
among the most prosperous women in Sherpur village –
earning their own livelihood through their own inherent
Ranthambore National Park spreads over 400 sq. kms of dry
deciduous forest in the Sawai Madhopore district of
south-east Rajasthan. It is one of the finest natural
tiger habitats of the world. Creating this space and
freedom, however, meant that villagers, whose ancestors had
for centuries lived within the environs of the Park, lost
their homes and had to be resettled. Though these villagers
were settled in areas just outside the Park, they lost their
access to wood, water and traditional farming lands. As an
initiative to support these villagers, the Ranthambore
Foundation was created with the objective of acting as a
catalyst in rebuilding the displaced communities’ social
and economic foundations. It was in this context that the
Ranthambore Foundation approached Dastkar in the spring of
1989 to take charge of the income generation programme for
the village crafts persons, particularly women.
objectives were as follows:
local craft skill and materials to create products whose
production and sale would generate employment and
income, without destroying the traditional structures of
village life, or preventing the producers from engaging
in other agricultural and household duties.
craft production and marketing as a catalyst to rebuild
the confidence and economic viability of communities
that had been dislocated and uprooted
from the area that was designated as protected,
once the sanctuary was created
Dastkar initiatives in the area of income generation
with other programmes of the Ranthambore Foundation, in
areas like primary health-care, family planning,
education and adult literacy, environment conservation
etc., thereby creating a model for a holistic
create structures for capacity building, so that the
crafts persons can themselves become responsible for
every stage i.e. from the point of sourcing raw
materials to final marketing to end customers.
plan seemed simple enough---identify the traditional crafts
of the area and build on these existing strengths to create
products that have an urban appeal.
visited the area in April 1989 to identify local craft
traditions and materials that could be the basis for income
generation schemes. The survey covered the two towns of
Sawai Madhopur and Khandar and six villages in the area. The
villages were grouped around the Ranthambore Park –
Sherpur,Kundera, Shyampura etc; and the villages around the
Khandar Fort – Chhan, Allahpur, Baharandi etc.
Kailashpura is one of the villages that has been
completely created from resettled people from the forest.
Their new location seems a bizarre, heartbreaking
choice for a pastoral community – lacking water, fodder,
trees and all the other aspects and amenities of their
former verdant forest home.
Consequently innovative development schemes were a
survey however told a different story---it revealed that
there was little professional craft.
But a number of craft skills were being practised by
both men and women in the villages, mainly as a means of
reusing and recycling waste materials such as rags, reed,
cane, wool waste, newsprint etc. or to create items of daily
use by the villagers themselves. Most of the craft people
are women whose only previous employment options were
through casual labour, stone breaking or road clearing.
Kundera, the team was introduced to a juthi maker. There
were a few families making black pottery in the nearby
village of Shyamota. In Shyampura, the beautiful mandna
paintings on the mud walls of the homes, (similar to Warli
paintings of Maharashtra), gave indication of the existence
of creative talent. Patchwork was an obvious craft, done
mostly for placing on bulls and camels.
However, this kind of work had been stopped due to a
lack of local demand.
Other craft skills in Shyampura included dyeing, rope
weaving, and mirror-work on dupattas.
now had to rethink its normal strategy.
Instead of the usual pattern wherein Dastkar
interventions were always targeted to professional
craftspersons, this posed a challenge of a new kind—the
need was to first create groups of professional
craftspersons before the stereotypical inputs of design,
management and marketing could be given.
Dastkar made its proposal to the Ranthambore
Foundation on this basis, the programme outlined being
documentation of craft techniques and motifs; identification
of potential craftpersons; designing of a sample range;
production, culminating in an exhibition-cum-sale to
highlight local skills and create awareness of the
objectives of the Foundation.
Foundation approved the project, initial funds were raised
and with that, started Dastkar’s involvement in the
region. Dastkar began a series of six-weekly visits to
Ranthambore and its environs in August 1989, initially
concentrating on photo-documenting various crafts and
products. This period was also useful in understanding the
village communities and their dynamics. Unlike most other
Dastkar projects, there was no local field organisation to
build bridges, or do the follow up work. We were not dealing
with a single, close-knit, professional, market-driven craft
community; rather we were trying to enter a diverse,
heterogeneous agrarian society. Craft skills, rapidly dying,
were practiced, if at all, in a totally spontaneous,
unstructured and undeveloped way.
began in the twin villages of Sherpur and Khilchipur in
October 1989. Results were however not forthcoming. The
village women were suspicious, unsure and uncommitted. The
first task was therefore, to motivate the women to
understand their own hidden potential before they could be
expected to become craftpersons in a commercial sense. And
build trust in Dastkar.
December 1989, a Dastkar coordinator spent three weeks
living in the village itself, initiating the Dastkar room.
It took this intervention to break the barrier. From an
occasional sample produced after many weeks, primarily to
please Dastkar, a regular and growing production line of
products and designs began to appear. Dastkar was also able
to separate the potential crafts persons from the rest,
identify those who really needed the income and provide
first hand training to them.
the end of the three weeks, patchwork cushions, quilts,
lacquer bangles, decorative chumli pot holders, bandini and
sequin pomcha dupattas, pressed wool namda rugs,
terracottaware and rag rugs were ready for the first
Ranthambore project consignment to Delhi. Craftspersons in
Sherpur and six potters in Shyamota were registered as
regular producers. The value of this consignment was small
but it translated into an average earning of Rs.100/- for
each of the 35 women for a ten-day work, a figure that
compared well with the alternative offered by backbreaking
work as casual construction labour.
project was now in full swing. A full-time, local Project
Coordinator was hired to manage affairs. After the first
year, 65 households in Sherpur village had two-three family
members working for Dastkar. By June 1991, 18 months after
the inception of the project, the 75 women working in the
initial two target villages were earning an average of Rs.
300-500 per month. Today, it varies between Rs. 500-4000 and
has approximately 300 craftspeople working.
November 1990, a group from the village, including two
women, participated in the Delhi Dastkari Bazaar for the
first time, running their stall and interacting directly
with customers and other craftspersons from all over India.
They sold Rs. 67000/- worth of goods. This was a real
breakthrough since it brought a much greater understanding
of group action, independence and cooperative working as
well as matters like quality control, sizing, and consumer
Sherpur- Khilchipur firmly on its feet, Dastkar moved on to
Kundera and Kailashpuri villages. Craft skills identified
were leatherwork, mat and fan-making. The Kundera leather
artisans responded well—mojris, juthis began to reach the
Delhi market regularly. This development was significant
also because these artisans constituted another male craft
group in the Dastkar umbrella.
was a much greater challenge. Dastkar was able to identify
basic skills in embroidery, mandna painting, fan- weaving
and miniature rag-doll making. However, being engaged in
agricultural or dairy work, most of these women could not
spare any time to hone up their skills enough to produce
saleable items. Dastkar therefore, decided not to expand its
project in this village for the time being.
the first five years, Dastkar was based in a small room in
Sherpur village. As the project took root, this room became
a centre where people of different castes and religions,
occupations and ages came together to learn new skills, or
often, simply to interact and observe. Topics of discussion
were vast and varied—birth-control methods were canvassed
along with colour combinations; old women realised that
writing their name was as easy as threading a needle!
the small room could no longer cope with the ever growing
official Dastkar Kendra was therefore, opened in January
1993 on a plot that was leased from the Foundation and with
the help of grants and donations. The Dastkari Kendra –
DASTKAR’s Craft Community Centre at Ranthambore was
conceived as the culmination of the first phase of the
DASTKAR Ranthambore Project.
A bringing together of the various elements and these
incorporated in our income generation programme in the
villages around the Ranthambore Park – community building,
training, production sales and social awareness.
was intended to serve as
and Workshop Space
and Sampling Studio
Documentation and Display Centre
centre is functioning from August’ 92 and provides an
income in traditional skills to over 100 people. The Kendra
today house a production centre, raw material store, office,
sales outlet, training workshop apart from accommodating a
guest house and a local community centre. It is a
non-sectarian workspace for group interaction, utilised for
the development and production of crafts, like
block-printing and tie-dyeing, that cannot be done in homes.
The existence of this facility has also enabled the
conducting of a large number of training programmes, on
topics ranging from tailoring, pottery or dyeing techniques,
on the one hand, to cooperative management, accounting,
legal literacy or adult education, on the other. The Dastkar
Ranthambore project is currently being run by a local
Project Coordinator—Ms. Ujwala Jodha, supported by four
office staff members. In September 2000, the Ranthambore
shop was inaugurated.
following Craft skills are being practised at the Kendra
Tie - Dye
Prasad and his group of bandini tie & dye women make
pomchas for the village women to embellish with sequins
embroidery. The traditional Sawai Madhopore black and red
pomcha has been developed in different layouts and different
colours: purple, green, yellow and orange, as well as a
natural dye range in indigo, beige, brown, grey and fawn and
a summer range with white as the predominant colour.
A Ranthambore Dastkar pomcha featured prominently in
Mira Nair’s international award-winning film, Mississipi
Lal Nama was an out of work hand-block printer whom DASTKAR
encountered in our search for local base fabric for our
patchwork garments and soft furnishings.
He had a wonderful collection of old block designs
handed down in his family from the time Sawai Madhopore was
a famour centre of indigo block printing.
Babulal was encouraged to restart his printing
business, using traditional alizerine and vegetable dyes,
colour ways and motifs.
We have also developed a new range of block designs
usine motifs from the village children’s drawings of the
flora and fauna of the region.
Babulal earned Rs. 19,600 through DASTKAR last year.
He is a home-based craft, with members of his family
doing the printing.
However, he and Giriraj have been motivated by the
new areas for income generation in the villages.
The Dastkari Kendra is the venue for these training
product range from the Kendra has grown to an impressive 80
odd items covering a wide spectrum of home furnishings,
garments including lehngas, jackets and tops, bell totas and
decorative mobiles, in addition to sarees and dupattas.
The Shyamota potters and Kundera leather artisans
have been able to attain independent status as
self-sustaining craft groups visiting Dastkari bazaars and
other exhibitions on their own.
mid 1992, Dastkar suggested that the craft group of
Sherpur-Khilchipur village should organise themselves as a
formally registered cooperative, with a vision that others
in the area would follow their example, and all would be
linked together as a cluster under the Dastkar umbrella.
However, the literacy level in the village was a major
hurdle. Although the group was working well, the members did
not have the requisite skill to allow this community
organisation to come into being. Dastkar therefore
decided to delay this transition until after organisation
and leadership had developed organically.
Dastkar Ranthambore Kendra has changed their attitudes to
society, caste, marriage, purdah.
Initially, in the village, women of different castes and
religions wanted separate timings to come to the room where
the Dastkar coordinator had lived and worked. The first time
a harijan woman
came for work she crouched outside the door. It was she
herself, not the upper caste women, who explained - with
shocked disbelief at the Dastkar coordinator’s naiveté -
that she could not enter. She had to be literally pulled in.
When a Muslim child pee-ed on the floor, the Hindu women
fled in horror and wanted the whole place lippai-ed!
Today, the men and women in the Project work, travel, cook,
eat and drink together, marveling at the folly that kept
them separate for so long. At the annual picnic the men make
the women sit, and serve them - Hindus and Muslims, harijan
and upper-caste, alike. The local doctor says he can
recognize a DASTKAR craftswoman from half a kilometre, just
by the way she walks and holds her head. The groups do not
always follow a religion or caste bias and therefore some of
them have a mixed representation across caste, religion or
craft, a trend that Dastkar has been happy to encourage.
June 1993, Dastkar suggested that the women participating in
the programme should save a minimum of Rs. 20/- per month
into a recurring account. The objective was to encourage the
habit of saving.
This small amount did not really pinch the pocket and
would otherwise have, most likely, been spent on unnecessary
trinkets. The Project Coordinator was made responsible to
collect the money each month and deposit it in a bank.
Twenty-six women joined this savings club, which worked such
for around 1-2 years.
the project was growing in scale, so was its requirement for
working capital. This was explained to the craftswomen who
were told of the need to create a joint revolving fund for
sustaining production. The women understood that anyone who
wanted work from the Kendra would also need to join the
savings group., and thus, a collective savings group took
when the local bank was approached for a loan against these
collective savings, the request was turned down. Instead,
the Bank Manager urged the women to form a self-help group.
After a lot of deliberation centred around how the group
would function, the Dastkar Swayam Samuh Sahayata group came
into existence. Since that small beginning, the Dastkar
Ranthambore Project has come a long way in setting up and
successfully running Self-Help Groups. Today, there are five
groups, all working well.
the first meeting, the working rules were laid out. It was
decided that all members would contribute a particular sum
each month. The amount to be saved was decided by ALL
members, who thereafter were bound by it. The collected
amount can be loaned out to the person whose need is the
greatest, which fact is also decided by the group. This
amount is given at an interest, which rate is also decided
by the group, as is the time limit for repayment. The member
taking the loan has to arrange two sureties from within the
group. In the event of default, the member is fined Rs. 5/-
per day of default. Meetings are held regularly each month
at a predetermined date. All members are required to attend
and absentees are in fact fined Rs. 5/- The fine for delayed
contribution/repayment is also Rs. 5/- per day
present, Dastkar is working with women from three villages
adjoining the sanctuary/ Kendra and with two other villages
i.e. of potters and cobblers. Informal research however
reveals that there are more traditional craft skills in
other villages of the District, which have not as yet been