#VOCAL FOR LOCAL – @ShopChaupal

by Varnika Dalmia

The sphere of arts and crafts in India is, as quoted by many, the one consisting of “perennial potential”. We often associate this sector with something that was living in the past, as opposed to something that should be relevant for generations to come. In the contemporary  world of free market enterprise and booming capitalism, leveraging technology and innovation to build profitable and scalable business models to help  support and advice local artisans, is the main objective of Shop Chaupal.

The notion surrounding crafts in India is closely tied to its roots of traditional skills and a perceived hereditary legacy. But this might not be entirely true. The debate between traditional and modern is an age old one wherein what the terms rightly entail remains uncertain. What role does traditional craftsmanship have to play in a modern, developing world of ours?

The handicrafts zone presents tremendous opportunities in the World where we are currently burdened by the pressures of climate change, socio-economic development and the unforeseen Covid 19 pandemic. Thinking of sustainable practices and what it really entails for  specific regions, locations, materials, and its correlation with value of the (un)built environment is essential and something the political discourse of the county often misses out on.  This is the need of the hour. Supporting local economy and boosting the small-scale handicrafts industry, by introducing it into the mainstream market of e-commerce, allows for the works of millions of artisans to persevere and helps them save their families. The current idea is more survival based than it is profit based, however, a conscious development of a brand image, like ours, at Shop Chaupal (@shopchaupal on Instagram) is a key factor for the sustenance of the crafts industry of India and will help incorporate it in the aesthetic of the cyberspace networking ecosystem of rapid consumption.

The magic of weaving, block printing, natural dyeing, wood, and stone craft making begins every year in several rural and urban settings across India. For instance, a small village named Purulia, in West Bengal is home to more than 250 artisans. In the weeks leading up to Durga Puja, these artisans get busy shaping idols of the goddess and her four children, KartikeyaGaneshaAshok and Sundari and the infamous buffalo demon, Mahisasura. They also make paintings, gifts, and a myriad of other things with natural, environment friendly paints, dyes, and green raw materials.  Often, these artisans cannot move away from their studios until all the work is done. Their sheer determination and hard work is visible in the  beautiful sculptures and paintings that they create. The rush during the Covid 19 pandemic starts in the month of July itself. This continues through the period of monsoon and the beginning of autumn.  During this time, hygiene and cleanliness remains a major problem area in the congested lanes of  Purulia district, where potters and artisans prefer cleaning studio surroundings on their own. They usually work eight hour shifts just before the puja and when the work reaches an overload it goes on all night with overtime pay. The locality has been in this business since time immemorable, and it is the home for several generations of talented craftsmen who have produced some of the finest works of arts and crafts. Their artistry’s recognition  is not just limited to India but has surpassed its borders too. We, at Kala Chaupal, recognize the impact of our products on the western market. We intend to create an avenue for this craftsmanship to be showcased in the west, where there is a lot more admiration of Indian handicrafts and a wider consumer base. With minimal overheads, costing, or involvement of secondary beneficiaries, we  keep the margin of profit high for the artisans. The intent behind this is to showcase and respect the people who are making the products.

We are working with foundations like Goonj to provide immediate relief to the artisans and their families who have faced a severe crisis since 2020. Products ranging from hand-made Culture Masks to accessories, clothing , and several other gift and home décor items are available on our website and Instagram handle. This online shop provides in a short-term sustainable model to  ease out the sales of these artisans’ works.

The United Nations, in the wake of global climate crisis had introduced the 17 sustainable development goals(SDGs) for each nation. These rather ambitious goals, link up with global politics, strategies of the biggest companies and high technology solutions, but it does have strategies in common with the world of artisans! In the long run, handicrafts are cut off from

most bureaucrats’ decision-making process for each state. Nonetheless, the emergence of  handicraft  movement  is one  of  the global  trends which we have closely observed recently. Handicrafts, originally deeply rooted in local cultures, rural closed societies, traditional guilds of crafts masters, are becoming more and more popular, not only as a way of spending free time and the way of relaxation, but also as an idea of evolution of  global business. This is primarily the reason why handicraft is considered as one of the tools to make SDG goals more reachable.

We are conditioned to look at the perceived notions of the past, from a singular narrativized lens that we cannot be active contributors to the local economy of the nation. However, by using our education and knowledge as a skillset to employ several thousand artists in these tough times, and act as active translators who adaptively reuse the existing structures, materials, and situations to represent both the culture that originally constructed the craft and also the society that has remodelled it over time to make it a living, breathing part of the larger economy of the nation, once again.

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