Jaya Jaitly, founder and president of Dastkari Haat Samiti, has been one of the most vocal supporters of Indian crafts and artisans. An association of crafts people, Dastkari Haat Samiti enables traditional workers to gain confidence in the marketplace through many innovative strategies. Jaitly also conceptualised the popular crafts marketplace in the capital, Dilli Haat. Here is an excerpt from an interview where she discusses the linkages between craft and responsible tourism.
Considering the symbiotic relationship between tourism and craft in many destinations, how do you think the two sectors can support each other?
Crafts and tourism have been linked ever since globalisation in the early '90s brought places, events, tours and policies that, at first, unintentionally linked them both. However, crafts were expected to flourish if geared towards tourist preferences and standard locations. Some crafts and cultural performances became synthetic shows that weren’t part of the real culture of the people, for example staged tribal dances, craft melas that were ‘fake rural’, and even our hotels were designed like the ones in the West. Over time, the situation reversed, perhaps because we had come onto the road to self-discovery and self-confidence after years of colonial rule and were proud of presenting our own identity and a multitude of places and experiences that were unique to India and had never been given importance.
The Surajkund Crafts Mela was developed by and for Haryana Tourism, with crafts only as a peg. Dilli Haat was conceptualised purely as a crafts marketplace but by chance was accorded to Delhi Tourism to manage. Small companies began organising craft tours for crafts enthusiasts, not with tourism in mind. Tourist spots which stood alone focused on food courts and not crafts other than some cheap key rings or pens. But, slowly a better and more organic gelling of the two began. Today craft villages want to present their best face to tourists, and tour operators ensure crafts are a part of the journey.
Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board was in the process of planning craft development programmes in villages with existing skills near tourist locations.
In the US there is an important policy recommendation by a powerful body called the National Association of Governors (NAG), which calls for developing the local cultural practices with crafts, art forms, tourism and bring development there as a hub for major economic benefit to the local population. It may not have been taken seriously by the present regime in the US, but if all Governors of States believed it to be a good engine for development, India certainly has the cultural resources and the enthusiasm of tourism departments in many states to seriously consider it.
Traditional organic food items can be sold out of food stalls and can be built around homesteads that could become a part of the sustainable tourism family in the future.
Craft, along with agriculture, is seen as an alternate source of income in many communities and regions that were dependent on tourism. Do you think this approach will work? How do you think they can access markets and turn this into a workable and viable model?
Interestingly, crafts and agriculture have been historically connected in agricultural societies all over the world. Industrialisation, heavy mechanisation, and global produce have destroyed the great potential of handmade crafts, and organic agriculture. Tourism, especially in the specialised areas of sustainable and responsible tourism, has been instrumental in joining all three to give tourists unique experiences of working in a field or making and buying crafts. This has potential in the future, and perhaps water harvesting can be an added attraction. Perhaps the world will be more tuned to this instead of wasteful leisure/luxury sought by the very rich.
Bhutan is a charming country that uses its traditional practices and lifestyles as a part of its general tourist charm. Its buildings are decorated with traditional Buddhist art and the roads are lined with simple but clean and attractive platforms where villagers sell vegetables from their lands. I have seen this in Manipur too - a woman was selling pineapples from her land while spinning thread to weave. It was a beautiful sight that you do not see in our cities or other countries.
Have you seen innovations or emergence of business models (in craft and tourism) that can be replicated?
I can’t say I have seen any new models connecting the two, but I have seen the emergence of a much greater energy in designing and marketing crafts suited to particular environments. It would be a very good idea if new linkages can be made in the following areas:
i) Tourism spots of any size and nature to provide/market health-related handmade products with a clear location-related identity like bags with space for not just water bottles but light clothing, yoga mats, handmade organic soaps and health-related ayurvedic cosmetics.
For these they would have to reach out and link up with designers attached to craft development and marketing organisations.
ii) Arrival points at airports, railway stations and bus stations need to welcome tourists with an Indian aesthetic which is of traditional art or craft. Of course, smaller sustainable tourism organisations can’t do this themselves but they can recommend such ideas to responsive local authorities. In Varanasi we once did a project using local folk toy painters, who were in dire straits, to paint cycle rickshaws. It adds to the visual aesthetic, enhances earnings and helps local tourism.
iii) Architects have also shown great enthusiasm in working with local craft skills and would happily link with those who support the idea of Responsible Tourism. They could support local crafts by incorporating them when setting up resorts, out-house homestays and locations providing wildlife and sporting experiences. In Tripura, there is a group that can make handmade bamboo infrastructure.
iv) Lastly, I would recommend travellers and RT businesses to look at the Google Arts & Culture website and click on G.co/craftedinindia, which is promoted as a ‘travel there and bring back a craft’ feature by the Ministry of Tourism under the Incredible India banner. These were done by my organisation in partnership with Google Arts & Culture and can encourage people in the responsible tourism business to understand craft environments and build travel and educational tours around them.
Possibly this line of out-of-the box thinking could lead to better and more such ideas.