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Asia

Traditional trades on the brink of extinction

India’s rapidly growing economy has meant a better life for many people, but not for everyone. Artisans and craftsmen are calling for government intervention to help save their trades from dying out.

Pottery, a traditional craft in India, is losing to globalization

Pottery, a traditional craft in India, is losing to globalization

The massive exploitation of natural resources has displaced poorer sections of society like forest dwellers and pastoralists. And artisans and craftsmen are worried that their trades will die out. So they are calling on the government for help.

One such man is Rangalu. He is sitting in his tiny room in the dusty village of Pochampally, busy behind the loom. For 20 years, he has been weaving to feed a family of four but he is finding it more difficult with every passing day.

Over 3,000 families are living in this village 50 km from Hyderabad, the capital of India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh. And over half of them are handloom weavers. But many are planning to leave their jobs to take on other vocations.

Handloom weaving is becoming a thing of the past as the craft struggles to stay alive

Handloom weaving is becoming a thing of the past as the craft struggles to stay alive

The decline of the handloom weaving industry — caused by the introduction of the power loom and cheap imports — has forced many weavers out of work. These weavers were proud of their occupation, which was a family trade, passed on through several generations.

"I can't carry on"

But Rangalu said the money is no longer enough. "I can’t carry on. There is no money in this anymore. Many of us are leaving the jobs. At least we can make better money elsewhere. And the government has not helped at all."

Pottery, an ancient craft that used to be the measure of a country’s civilization, is now also dying a slow death. Leather work, masonry and pottery – all skills that have been handed down through generations are being rejected.

The issues of sustaining these timeless traditions and protecting common property resources brought together academics such as political scientists and ecologists, but also policy makers to a recent international conference in Hyderabad.

Making sacrifices for growth

The challenge before India and many other countries, many argued, was whether common goods such as water, forests, grazing land and coastal resources should be sacrificed for growth.

Weavers in southern India's Pochampally have gone on strike, demanding the government help save their craft

Weavers in southern India's Pochampally have gone on strike, demanding the government help save their craft

Tom Arnold, the chief of Concern Worldwide, an organization that focuses on helping the poorest people in the world’s poorest countries, said the government must alter its policy for the disadvantaged.

"For very poor people in different parts of India, common goods are actually a very important part of their livelihoods." Arnold added, "access to the resources of the commons really needs to be recognized and built into government policy. And I don’t see that the government should find itself in a conflict situation with people on that matter."

Competing with corporations

Pastoral and forest communities as well as nomadic tribes are under attack in India as forests are handed to the corporations for iron ore mining; wetlands are given away for setting up electricity projects or other industrial units. This is triggering protests from the local communities who depend on these resources.

Forrest Fleischman, an academic who has been working on forest dwellers said there needs to be collaboration between tribal communities and forest administrators." He added, "the problem is that forest administrators have much more power than tribal communities and they tend to impose their will. Tribal communities can be very strong allies for forest conservation in some situations. But they need to be empowered to make their own decisions."

The big question is whether governments pre-occupied with achieving high economic growth have the political will to protect the marginalised sections of society.

Author: Murali Krishnan (Hyderabad)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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