There’s something undoubtedly magical about Tribal handicrafts in Jharkhand. Unique, intricate, eye-catching and expressive, each item has a story behind it. It’s impossible to come to Ormanjhi, Ranchi (in Jharkhand) and return home empty-handed.
Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Ho, Kharia and Bhumij and the shifting agriculture tribe Sauria Paharia live in the forests around Ranchi. Ranchi is one of the most urbanised districts of Jharkhand state. Despite being so urbanised many of its tehsils (10 out of 18 blocks) in Ranchi have 100 percent rural population.
There is a huge “digital divide” that separates these tribes from other demographics from having access to the Internet, computers and phones. Tribal women, who already suffer from hunger and poverty, are particularly impacted by this divide.
VLE Tausif Ahmad is working to reduce this gap through CSC WiFi Choupal. With the advent of WiFi Choupal, internet connectivity allowed these tribal women to access unlimited information and knowledge and provided a platform for economic empowerment. It has transformed isolation into connectedness and empowered the individual in the economic and social spheres. The formerly excluded and marginalized are able to participate and are given a voice and new identity in information societies.
Since November 2018, VLE Tausif Ahmad has been implementing WiFi Choupal for the rural development of areas in Ormanjhi, Ranchi. The focus is on the people, not the technology or machines. For example, 33 tribal women who participated in the ICT project have drastically changed their outlook on life. Before their involvement, they felt insecure and afraid to speak out or participate because of their limited education.
VLE says, “After training them in PMGDISHA, they felt motivated and capable. We trained them to use computers, laptops, printers, cameras and other technological supplies. It wasn’t always easy! They had to learn to use a mouse, which was a new but fun challenge. And they learned about the World Wide Web for the first time. They built time into their busy schedules every week to practice their new skills.” VLE Tausif has employed 10 such tribal women at his Rural BPO.
VLE adds, “We design our projects to include information and communications technology (ICT) to support improved infrastructure for tribal communities. The equipment and training women and farmers receive not only provides access for them individually; it also helps build a stronger, more sustainable program and is used as a development tool for the remote villages in Ormanjhi.”
Apart from this, VLE Tausif is transforming lives of tribal women who are engaged in lac industry in Ranchi. The lac industry is a traditional industry. Lac handicrafts are an income-generating activity for many tribal women in Ranchi, but as producers these women often receive the lowest profit in the trading chain.
Bangle craftspersons, with women outnumbering men, are part of the unorganised sector, working at small units or within the confines of a house. With wages having remained constant for some time, some craftspersons have opted to become construction workers. Retailers sometimes provide raw materials including the lac, ornamental glass pieces, coal and the machinery needed to make the bangles and pay the workers a commission. Retailers make more profits than craftspersons. Stagnant income is one reason why some artisans have given up the craft in search of better livelihoods.
Women artisans asked VLE Tausif to help them find ways to market their goods online. VLE Tausif Ahmed conducted a market study that showed that the lac market is a highly competitive arena, both in price and quality, and that exporting is not a realistic option for most female artisans. For larger numbers of low-income women to benefit from ICT-supported marketing, they would need to be organised in a collective enterprise that handles the various stages of product design, quality control and marketing. The VLE found that the most promising market for local craftswomen would be a domestic outlet, and CSC Grameen eStore and Kisan eMart have an important role to play in this scenario.
Now many members of women’s artisan who make lac bangles are using the technology training to improve how they market and sell their goods through CSC Grameen eStore. They are promoting their products online and learning new skills and designs to improve their craftsmanship and products. The income of these craftsmen in Ormanjhi, Ranchi increased considerably after the adoption of ICT through WiFi Choupal and Grameen eStore for market access. Each manufacturer sells bangles worth Rs 12-15 lakh a year — the bulk of them in local markets and up-country markets like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and other cities.
VLE Tausif always wanted women to become community leaders and participate in the decision-making process – both in their own households and the community. “I felt that the focus should not be simply earning money, but overall empowerment in all aspects,” shares VLE.
Proving most useful, with the help of CSC WiFi Choupal, the women are able to access information on the newest fashion trends – this helps them better understand the client demand, which is especially beneficial for the lac garment trade.
Lack of time, money and poor road conditions now cease to be an obstacle for these women to get in touch with their clients. And now they’re connecting to other artisan women’s groups in villages outside their region through WiFi Choupal. This is creating a chain of connection for women who would have otherwise never known each other. Through this technology, using email accounts, Facebook and YouTube, women are virtually leaving their villages without having to walk the hundreds of miles on dangerous paths and in cold weather to meet other women.
49 years old beneficiary Rasheeda Begum who makes lac handicrafts, says, “Internet has opened many doors. Thanks to the internet connectivity by WiFi Choupal, we now have catalogs to display our products, Facebook, a YouTube channel where we can show our work and an email address where people can ask about our products. Selling products online through Grameen eStore has generated good income for us.”
With all these experiences women artisans went from just receiving inputs and sharing resources to becoming generators of life-changing information in their homes and villages. This allows more women artisans to improve their lives, and more women groups are able to access more information to educate, strengthen and empower.