By Sudhansu R Das
They have reasons to quit their profession. The situation around them hardly encourages the Gond Ojhas (artisans) of Adilabad, Telangana, to make Dhokra craft. Over the years, various marketing agencies, traders and middlemen have used their skill, hard work and imaginative skill to mint money. But they did not share the profit margin with the Ojhas. Rather they paid the ojhas a paltry sum which is not more than what an unskilled labour gets at the end of the day; around Rs 150. In the process they killed the hen which lays golden eggs. Lack of transparency in handicraft trade had pushed the Gond artisans into penury. Low wage, lack of social recognition, loss of aesthetic sense among buyers, corruption and middlemen are the main reasons why Dhokra craft has lost much of its grace, artistry and the potential to create employment. The young generation are not interested in learning the skill as they know craft making can’t improve their living conditions. Madavi Ramchandar, 23 earns Rs 8000 per month after working 10 to12 hours a day.
The state is losing its cultural treasure. A few senior artisans are making this craft through many difficulties. “Quality Dhokra craft will disappear within a few years,” said Kova Naneswar, National Awardee. Smart babus put the blame on artisans as they unjustly brand them as lazy with little ability to innovate. In fact, innovation is of no use when the skill and artistry disappears due to continuous low remuneration. Though the Dhokra craft of Adilabad has got Geological Indicator(GI) tag, little effort has been made to protect the profit margin of the genuine artisans. Despite having the skill to add high value to their products, the artisans live in misery. In the last two decades, the majority of the senior artisans in their 50s have switched over to other menial jobs. “Most of them are doing majdoori (daily labour)”, said Kova Naneshwar, 68, who doesn’t have time and money to do cataract operation on his right eye. “Now my age is advancing and I will have to die,” added Naneshwar. He has made hundreds of exotic Dhokra items which are kept in Kaleshwar handicraft museum in Adilabad. Traders and middlemen in different forms have become rich by selling his products.
As the senior artisans do not get the profit margin they deserve, they no longer make bigger and classier items. Ultimately, they lose their skill and the state loses the scope of earning revenue from value added craft items. In fact, the artisans cannot make and market their products. Often they fall prey to middlemen, traders and unscrupulous people in the marketing chain. “Twenty years back, there were 50 artisans in our area. Now only three artisans are left,” said Baburam, senior artisan of Jangaon village, “many have died and the others have left the work.”
Gone are the days when there was dense forest, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, green hills, plenty of minor forest products and buffer food zone in the surrounding areas. The Gond artisans were happy and healthy. They were at their creative best to make magnificent decorative pieces, utility items and religious artefact. They make those items with molten brass, bee wax and clay. As the forest has been depleted due to construction of roads, agriculture activity, reservoirs and rampant wood smuggling, the raw material for Dhokra craft has become costly. Now the Gond-Ojhas have little option but to leave this famous craft tradition.