Celebrating our (green) nation
Happy Republic Day, green heart-ers! As an Indian brand with its roots in India, this day is one we celebrate with pride and a lot of gratitude as we take a moment to appreciate our community here in Delhi and beyond.
Today, we wanted to speak more about why this day is important for us to recognise and talk through the milestones in our nation’s history that shaped what it is today.
What is Republic Day?
Republic Day differs from Independence Day, which is the annual celebration of our official independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Today, however, not only celebrates our nation’s freedom from British rule, it more importantly commemorates the Constitution of India coming into full effect, that being on the 26th January 1950. To put it simply, the Constitution “demarcates fundamental political code, structure, procedures, powers, and duties of government institutions and sets out fundamental rights, directive principles, and the duties of citizens” - basically forming the core principles and values India upholds.
With almost 100 years of British occupation then another 100 years of their official nationwide rule, the fight then eventual victory to becoming independent is one we cherish as it offset a determination to build an India that respects our communities and brings pride back to our traditions and culture.
An enduring love of craft
Traditional handicrafts have always been a core part of India’s soul. Back in ancient days and societies, it’s been long found that artisan communities, some being goldsmiths, brass smiths, carpenters and architects, were indispensable, truly integral in helping create societies and villages. In several ancient inscriptions - those notably belonging to Kadamba, Rashtrakuta and Ganga - these crafters were regarded as Viswakarmas, or Viswakarmacharyas, and were believed to be descended from Vishvakarma, a divine architecture god in contemporary Hinduism.
However, when the British came to power, Indian crafts declined sharply with the East India Company forcing a monopoly over production, decreasing their market prices to up to 40% and, with the removal of Indian princes and nobles, “led to the destruction of the artisan’s major market.” And so, in the fight for freedom, it is important to note that the Swadeshi movement, one of the more successful independent movements, brought attention to the handloom in order to bring pride back to traditional craft - we now commemorate their efforts through celebrating National Handloom Day. Moving forward, when India finally claimed its independence, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, a key freedom activist, knew how important crafts would be to rebuilding our nation so, seeking to revitalise artisan communities, she helped establish All India Handicrafts Board in 1952 along with other export bodies and craft museums that prioritised promoting Indian goods.
Today, our appreciation endures and we at SUI especially make efforts to uplift craft and merge it with modern design to encourage tradition while evolving it. This will help it stand the test of time and make sure, for decades to come, we still take pride in these arts.
India’s green steps
Our nation’s relationship with sustainability is nuanced to put it simply. Ours is one of the oldest civilisations that has been found to have had many ancient systems in place that were, at its core, eco-friendly - from sewage systems to agricultural methods. It’s apparent that our love for nature is deeply rooted in our culture and evident in ancient scriptures. And, as mentioned, due to our time under British rule, much of these traditions were lost and/or suppressed and we find India today somewhat struggling to modernise and adjust in order to tackle the climate crisis. Last year, we even saw the All India Handicrafts Board previously mentioned be abolished in an effort to create “a leaner government machinery and the need for systematic rationalization of government bodies”, what this means for craft communities is yet to be seen but is worrying in the journey towards revitalising the arts. It’s important to also note that India is one of the top 10 countries in the world that will suffer the most due to global warming and climate change.
However, there are silver linings. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan or Clean India Mission is a government campaign initiated in 2014 and continues today that seeks to tackle sustainability through better waste systems and addresses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 regarding making clean water and sanitation available for all. Notably, the mission has effectively tackled the issue of open sewage systems in rural areas and, as of 2019, “more than 100 million individual household level toilets have been constructed in rural areas, and 6 million household toilets in urban areas. In addition, nearly 6 million community and public toilets have also been constructed in the urban areas”, which has ensured cleaner environments leading to the better health of communities.
Moreover, many around the country have found that the responsibility of our planet’s health is a responsibility we all share and are pushing for environmental welfare in their own way, whether big or small. Young activists like 9-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, who has been advocating for better environmental policy since 2019 and even addressed the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25), represents how the younger generations are avidly tackling the issue of climate change by using their voices any way they can. A multitude of NGOs exist in India who also do a lot of good green work! Beach clean up groups, like Mahim Beach Clean Up and Clean Up Versova Beach; nature conservationists, like ReefWatch Marine Conservation and SayTrees; and educational groups, like New Delhi Nature Society, all seek to take the reins and ask others to do what they can in their communities.
When it comes to craft, the sentiment is similar with many organisations aiming to uplift craft clusters, especially focusing on underprivileged communities, bringing much needed work/projects to them, providing safe ethical workspaces, and giving them further training - some wonderful examples are WomenWeave and Pins and Needles, NGOs who we’ve worked with, who empower underprivileged women in Maheshwar and Delhi respectively in the garment/textile industry. With this in mind, it’s apparent that focus on craft could be an incredibly beneficial way for India to create a more sustainable nation, or rather revitalise it as it once was. Anita Dongre highlights how the villages in India are completely sustainable making 80% of our nation sustainable, however, material progress and the focus on profit is what has degraded environmental efforts. Bandana Tewari importantly points out that “The birth of these nations[like India] were based on cultural sustainability, which meant that these cultures were rural economies, they were grassroots economies, and the nations were built because of village economies, like a pyramid that starts from the ground up”, that pre-colonisation, each village had its own efficient ecosystem with its own dyers, weavers, cobblers, and so on, creating their own materials and structures. If there was excess, it would be sold to the next village, and the next village would do that too, creating an incredibly rich economy. And so, we find ourselves today, striving to recreate those sustainable systems and work towards a comeback to helping homegrown businesses thrive and support the artisans who dedicate themselves to such beautiful craft.
The road ahead
There’s a lot of work to be done still and we at SUI, along with many others around the country, are continuing our efforts towards a greener world. Establishing our Green Goals for the year is how we will hold ourselves accountable in that fight but we also wanted to understand how our artisan partners regard the journey too. They craft by hand using traditional methods that have been passed down generations, meaning less carbon emissions and energy is used in the process, positively impacting our climate - all in all, we’re so happy to have them on our team to help us be more conscious creators.
In this section, we turned to them to tell us more about their crafts’ history, how it fares in our modern world, and what their hopes for the future are.
Thoughts from Bagru Textiles
Tell us a bit about the history of block printing in India and Bagru Textiles specifically.
“In the 1970s pre-industrialisation era, block printed fabrics were only sold in local markets. There used to be the Hathwara Fair every Saturday for small block printers to sell their fabrics in Jaipur. After the 3rd Industrial revolution, the textile trade grew and goods were manufactured to cater to the masses. Exports also increased during this period, which did help Printers in Bagru as the demand for the block printed fabric increased. During the same time, people from the village also started to move towards bigger factories producing similar prints with bigger machines.
What this meant though was that there was a major change in the techniques used, the sizes for the printing tables were increased, the sizes for the wooden hand blocks were made bigger, where before this time only small wooden blocks of 4 x 3” inch sizes were created. Moreover, the quality of dyes were changed to chemical based dyes yielding more produce at cheaper values. Much of our traditional methods were changed to suit mass production.”
How have you tried to reclaim the craft and bring back tradition.
“How it often works now is the Government organises exhibitions in cities, but hardly any Printers from the villages get a chance to directly present their work. Generally, there are traders and middlemen who source from the block printers and present it at those Expos and exhibitions.
To promote our craft and ensure recognition for our community, Vijendra, the head of Bagru Textiles, was actively involved in filing the GI trademark for Bagru Hand Block Print in 2009, bringing direct communication back into their system. In terms of their traditional craft, we are doing our best to revert back to our former dyeing system that used natural colour. To name a few, for Neela (blue), we use Indigo majorly; for Kaala (black), we use Horseshoe Iron and Jaggery; and for Laal (Red), we use Phitkari (alum) and Madder roots.”
Thoughts from Nivedeta, Founder of Kagharewale
Tell us a bit about the history of the handloom in India.
“In the early days before their rule, all our cotton was indigenous short-staple cotton and was used effectively for our home based production. The system was completely local and by hand, the majority of which the process was done in the home. It was very much suited to a micro-level type of creation. But these parameters of cotton production completely changed when the British introduced mills, taking over much of the process and aiming towards mass production. The deterioration of the handloom sector and the loss of many craft clusters and skills began there, with the British Raj era.
By the 60s/70s, there was a massive obsoleteness in the sector and even after independence came around, the sector did not fully recover to this day. It comes down to the fact that we haven’t been able to preserve our past ecosystems and indigenous processes. Skill sets degraded a lot in many weaving clusters due to being forced to weave plain sarees, many of the more intricate weaving techniques were lost. Moreover, policy failures also put many out of work for some time. Handloom clusters experienced being pushed to the side by the government and private sector, even civil society organisations who all didn’t do much to revitalise the weaving field.”
How have you tried to reclaim the craft and bring back tradition.
“Although after the British left there were many initiatives and movements that sought to bring back the traditions of the handloom, much of the policy was ineffective and implementations did not go the way they should have. Even now, we find that the Textile Ministry has not been properly present within our clusters or active as it seems our industry is regarded to be one that cannot be capitalised on. Thankfully, corporations have started to think differently. Our hope is that the government can instill more effective initiatives in the future and see the benefit of revitalising our sector.
We have also seen a new wave of thoughtful conscious purchasing come to the forefront and young people are working hard to revive craft sectors and traditions, which is a very positive sign. We believe that this push from a new generation is really going to help us as they are trying to reinvent the wheel and understand that what we need to do now is slow down a little and talk to long-time crafters who have been creating for years and years and effectively use their knowledge of how craft was in generations past. For example, hand weaving is so different today as common practice now is to work all day, where in the past it would only be at certain times of the day, such as in the morning, and that was connected to scientific fact and the benefit of slowing down. Those timelines, skills and connection to the earth, the soil, the breath, were lost for so long because of a faster paced modern work environment, it’s time to bring it back.”
We hope this has brought more insight into why it’s so important to treasure our local craft, do check out the communities we have mentioned, support is always welcome, and see what craft in your local communities need help too! We’ll be bringing you more green stories like this one in the future, so stay tuned and stay green as always, have a wonderful Republic Day!