Artisans in Karnataka in dire straits as market shrinks for handicraft

It has hit communities in places such as Channapatana, Bidar, Sagar and Kumta

R. Krishna Kumar

Handicraft artisans across Karnataka are in dire straits having been rendered jobless by the virulence of the second wave of COVID-19 which has devastated the sector.

Not only have major workshops and studios that engaged trained craftsmen shut down due to lack of orders, but there are no takers to clear even the existing stock of handicraft articles.

No help from govt.

The association representing the artisan community has appealed to the government to give them financial assistance to help tide over the crisis. But so far their requests have been greeted with a deafening silence.

“The artisan community at Karakushalanagar in Mysuru has over 1000 families specialising in different art forms but mainly wooden inlay works. But they have reached a point where securing even two square meals a day is difficult and nobody is rendering them any assistance as orders have dried up and there is no work,” said S. Ramu, President, Karnataka State Handicrafts Manufacturers Association. At least 15% to 20% have taken to selling vegetables or entered the construction sector to work as daily wagers, he added.

This issue was not addressed when a package was announced for different sectors in 2020 and the same repeated in 2021. “We met Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa and other ministers but no body has responded so far,” he added.

N. Kumar of the Karnataka Artisans Welfare Association said there were not less than 25,000 registered artisans across the State and this translates to around 1.5 lakh people who were dependent on their earnings for livelihood. “We have artisan community and townships in Channapatana, Bidar, Sagar, Kumta etc and the situation is dire in all these places,” Mr. Kumar added.

Even if the State lifts the lockdown there is no glimmer of hope in the immediate future as handicrafts and furniture will be perceived to be a luxury in times of financial crunch wrought by uncertainty due to job loss. “The last finished handicraft article I sold was more than four months ago when the situation had slightly eased and there were signs of recovery. But even before the work could stabilize the second wave swept away the marginal gains that the sector had notched,” said Mr. Ramu.

No tourists

While the economic condition of those selling the wares to emporiums or exporting is dire, there are hundreds of artisans who were engaged in selling inlay works, mementoes, carvings etc to tourists in different parts of the State. Mysuru which received around 3.5 million tourists per year in the pre-pandemic times, supported the artisan community by fuelling demand for handicrafts. But with tourism having come to a standstill the artisans are staring at an uncertain future.

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