Sreelatha Menon: Skilling the skilled?

Sreelatha Menon: Skilling the skilled?

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 24, 2012 18:50 hrs

Is weaving a skill? Should the government’s National Skill Development Programme include weaving and handicraft among the skills it imparts to youths?

About 35 sector skill councils are being set up and, according to sources, the government might set up a sector skill council for handlooms and handicrafts. The effort is being made under the initiative of the International Labour Organisation.

The recent India International Trade Fair, held in Delhi, with its theme “skilling India”, focused on handlooms and handicrafts as one of the skills that are being promoted. But the ground reality is quite different. Government figures project a human resource requirement of 26,200,000 artisans in textile and clothing over the next decade.

This, of course, is not about the unsung weavers and it’s not clear whether the sector skill council will help create more or make the existing ones relevant and market-ready. In pro forma sessions, the government has been seeking the advice of experts in this field before the drafting of every Five Year Plan. Yet, it has still not been able to crack the code for making weaving and handicrafts a viable occupation.

Jaya Jaitley has been part of many of these consultations, including the latest one prior to the drafting of the 12th Five Year Plan. She says the government has, so far, ignored the advice of people in the sector and listens to either corporate counsel or international agencies. She fears that talk about the sector skill council for the sector might just be a lot of hot air.

The government’s approach to addressing the troubles faced by weavers, she says, has been confined to doling subsidies and announcing schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that de-skill them. Alternatively, it forces them to export. The government fails to recognise that weavers can tap a growing local market and does nothing to protect their culture that is linked to their skills, she says. In other words, the neglect to which artisans are subjected is as good as a implementing a de-skilling programme to drive people away from the impoverished existence that weaving and skills like pottery offer.

Jaitley, who is behind the unique market linkage platform of Dilli Haat, says the problem of artisans and weavers is that thousands of them have skills. But no work and no access to markets. People are leaving skills and what the sector needs is more thrust on marketing.

If a sector skill council is to create more weavers or artisans, she says, it won’t help at all. “Even 20 years ago, when the government was discussing income generation, I had asserted that the government should not teach handicrafts or papad-making or tailoring. But teach artisans how to make soaps or other consumables. Give a dhoti cooperative 10 washing machines and that would create incomes,” says Jaitley. Clearly, to save skills like weaving and handicrafts is another ball game and might require a different outlook altogether.

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