DigiKargha, an initiative of Digital Empowerment Foundation aims to support its cluster under the Digital Cluster Development Programme (DCDP) in an effort to lead them towards maturity and sustainability through digital empowerment and socio-economic sustainability.
Implemented with support through various partnership, projects under DigiKargha primarily involve inclusive and decentralised use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and other digital tools in critical aspects of cluster development, especially improving and scaling up weaving skills, designs, marketing and entrepreneurship, along with creating sustainable livelihood options for youth in the clusters.
India’s craft traditions and craft skills, passed on from generation to generation, are not just an important part of its cultural identity but a crucial means of sustenance for numerous communities. According to official figures, there are about 70 lakh artisans engaged in craft production for their livelihood. As per unofficial figures, there are about 20 crore artisans who form the backbone of India’s non-farm rural economy.
The development focus of the model allows the integration of both the social and economic capital needs of targeted artisan communities in an effort to lead them towards inclusive growth. Projects under DigiKargha work with support from Media Lab Asia for Chanderiyaan, Ericsson for Baank-e-Loom, Mphasis for Musiri, Nokia for KanchiLoom, UNDP for Warli, and Microsoft for DigiKala, Kaulava and Pochampally.
Located in Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh, Chanderi is a town rich in heritage, culture, tradition, art and handloom that dates as far back as 10th century AD. At present, there are about 3,500 weaver families and an equal number of handlooms in Chanderi, which has a population of approximately 30,000 people. However, the brand Chanderi and and beautiful silk sarees were facing a stiff competition from powerlooms until project ‘Chanderiyaan’ was launched in 2009.
Saidanpur village in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh specialises in weaving of gamchcha and stoles; and embroidery in zari. Barabanki and its adjoining area are home to around 50,000 weavers and 20,000 looms. Most of these weavers have not completed school, and live in joint families where almost every member is involved in the process of weaving. Weavers in Saidanpur, particularly, are surviving on extremely low wages due to tough competition from powerlooms and heavy involvement of middlemen.
Digikala is a handloom cluster project in two locations of Odisha – Barpali and Nuapatna, supported by Microsoft. Barpali is a densely populated block in Bargarh district of Odisha, with more than 1,000 handlooms spread across several pockets of clusters. Weavers in this part of Odisha are known for their original single ikat fabrics made with cotton and Tassar silk, which is a special technique in which yarn is tied and dyed before weaving. Nuapatna, located in Cuttack district is a cluster of some of the most talented weavers and national awardees. It is home to more than 5,000 weavers who make the most intricate ikat designs on silk and Tassar, many using natural dye on sarees, stoles and dupattas — sometimes taking years at a stretch to be made. However, machine-aided ikat, restricted access to market and lack of an eye for new designs are damaging the market for handloom products.
Fifty kilometres from Trichy is Musiri, home to more than 5,000 weavers who make silk/cotton sarees or veshti. But more than half of them have shifted to powerlooms. Those who could not afford powerlooms are struggling, witnessing a slow death of their skills. While powerloom weavers earn about Rs. 65 per saree and make five sarees a day, weavers who make sarees on handlooms earn anywhere about Rs.350 per saree but are only able to make three a week.
Kanchipuram, a noted centre of Tamil and Sanskrit from time immemorial, is an area bursting with heritage and culture. Weaving is a common occupation in villages surrounding Kanchipuram, with more than 80% of rural communities engaged in it. Woven with pure mulberry silk, sourced from other parts of the country, Kanchipuram pattu is a treasured possession in every house in Tamil Nadu. A saree in Kanchipuram is hand-woven with intricacy and delicacy and often takes more than ten days to weave. Sadly, the weavers in the region are facing tough competition from machine-aided designs and fabric.
According to an oral tale, Kollegal derives its name from two hermits ‘Kauhala’ and ‘Galava’. Situated on the foothills of the Western Ghats in Chamrajnagar District, Kollegal is often known as the ‘Silk City’ for its famous handloom silk saree industry. In fact, the region is famous for housing one of the last remaining silk industries in India. Weavers in Kollegal are experts in weaving pure silk sarees and fabrics. Yet many of them are vulnerable, choosing other professions.
Warli art is one of the rich traditional folk-art practiced and preserved by tribal communities in India. Warli art is found in northern outskirts of Thane and Palaghar district of Maharashtra that includes Talasari. Roots of this art can be found in to the 10th century. Similar paintings of 500 and 10000 BC are found in rock shelters of Bhimketka, Madhya Pradesh.
In 2017, DEF partnered with UNDP and L&T (Public Charitable Trust) to work in the handicraft clusters of Warli, under the project name of Warli to digitally empower the artisans of Talasari through digital interventions in various stages of designing and marketing. The goal of the project is to ensure artisans effectively accessing greater market share and profit through enhanced and sustainable business opportunities.
Pochampally in Andhra Pradesh is famous for its unique process of weaving Double Ikkat. Double Ikkat is produced by an ancient technique of resist dye which is also used during the process of mummification. Abode to more than 10,000 weaving households in this area, weavers in this region are experts in weaving silk, cotton and a blend of both. Weaving a double ikkat fabric utilizes hard work of more than four people and labour of ten days.
Chirala, located in Andhra Pradesh, 90 kilometers from Vijayawada is a weaver’s cluster with over 8,000 weavers. Previously known as Kshirapuri it was renamed Chirala (Chira means saree). Weavers of this region have excelled in this art for centuries. Even before the 18th century, these weavers made 7-yard sarees that could fit in a matchbox, showing perfection, precision, and excellence in their art form.