How India’s remote and rural workforce is surviving the trauma of Covid-19 | Bengaluru News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: The coronavirus pandemic has hit some harder than others. Among the most vulnerable in India is its remote workforce that constitutes 40 to 60 million artisans. These artisans are part of the unorganised sector who need an ecosystem to get access to the global market. Shining a ray of hope in these grim times, many enterprises have put up sincere efforts to create a sustainable growth plan for them.
“During Covid, we did a lot of work with communities in Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka after the Centre announced the country-wide lockdown. We tried to ensure the artisans have access to stipend and income. In fact this is a good model to showcase how the artisanal sector has been able to ensure safety from the standpoints of health and income,” said Neelam Chhiber, co-founder, managing trustee, Industree Crafts Foundation.


Many artisans in the remote areas have benefitted from this spokes-and-hub model

These communities are sitting in rural India. These people are very small. They are getting food at their homes during Covid, but their income has stopped. Most sales were based on local markets. Also a large part of this community is a supplier to big exporters. Now since they are part of an unorganised sector, the exporters can’t be expected to pay them stipend or wages.
A host of organisations and individuals including Industree foundation have come together to form a movement — Creative Dignity — that has reached out to 300 organisations in the artisanal sector that has got responses from some 22 lakh artisans. Creative Dignity is helping artisans catalogue their product and sell on platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Okhai, Go Coop, Jaypore, I Tokri and others. “The whole idea is how to circulate cash in their economy,” said Chhiber.

A large part of this community is a supplier to big exporters

“When most businesses have downsized and the threat of further job losses looming large, we are super proud to have supported all of our 2,000 artisans for the past months with full wages and psychological and social support. Our skills training modules using digital platforms now enable them to earn while working from homes. We are amazed by the fantastic support provided by USAID, HSBC, Target Foundation, Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives and IKEA Social Entrepreneurs helping secure the lives and livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable communities through these terrible times,” said Neju George Abraham, senior lead, strategic planning and projects.
This sector has inadequate finances, raw material, man power, retail support and technology. Its overall growth rate is also just 3 per cent a year and the producers are primarily rural women.
The Industree Foundation uses a principle called “distributed manufacturing”. Chhiber says the beauty of distributed manufacturing is that when the entire country was hit by the migrant workers’ crisis during the lockdown, here the producers did not have to migrate. A group of about 150 women work at a facility near their villages and several such groups are digitally connected to a hub. This hub-spoke model is comparatively cheaper than large industry models. Each hub has around 10-12 spokes and each spoke is covered under a radius of 70-80 km.

These artisans are part of the country’s unorganised sector

“Now I have the confidence to send my children to school regularly, and I can do it on my own salary,” said Akkamma, an artisan and one of the beneficiaries of this model from Andhra Pradesh.
An elderly woman, Panarani, ecstatically said, “I am proud that I am making handicraft products on my own and that they are selling in foreign countries.”

“The creative and cultural manufacturing sector in the country and globally is a vast, misunderstood space. It is a means of income for millions of the most vulnerable communities, within local and global economies. No one solution is an answer. It’s a spectrum of solutions that are needed spanning, a plethora of actors. In the time of Covid, it’s amazing to see the coming together of forces to support these communities. Donors that have supported the women members of these producer collectives with stipends throughout the lockdown, professional staff of the collectives who have supported with counselling, customers like IKEA who have stood in support, without decreasing orders, local governments supporting with common facility centres and equipment. Then we have movements like Creative Dignity with hundreds of professional, social workers, craft lovers and design entrepreneurs volunteering and coming together as rarely seen before,” Chhiber added.
Sustainability is very important in the village areas where people are economically, socially and educationally backward. “The rural area and agriculture is something I am passionate about. Wherever we are able to accelerate the economy automatically there will be development across all these sectors. So in the same line we are encouraging schemes for ladies and launching special schemes for them,” Nitin Gadkari, minister of micro, small and medium enterprises, said in a roundtable on making policies to support the unorganised sector.
“Grassroots feedback is also extremely critical for drafting a policy on the same,” he added at the event — Growth of Regenerative Economies — held on June 18.

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Sagar Biswas

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