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A mandir that composes songs of change
By Ashirbad S Raha



Kala Mandir, a leading non profit in handicraft initiatives has been spearheading a silent journey to revive dying art forms in Eastern India and thereby help poor tribals to improve their economic and social conditions.

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Grassmat weavers at Janumdih Village (photo courtesy: Kala Mandir)

"Very often, we would go to sleep just by gulping down a glass of water. Two meals a day was luxury that we could not afford. But now I am a happy man who can think beyond his meals and earn enough to sustain my family," says Dinbandhu, a daily wage earner turned grass mat weaver in Janumdih, a small remote village in Potka Block of East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

Having left behind his nights of empty stomachs, Dinbandhu now is a proud owner of a mobile phone. It's certainly quite a distance in the language of transformation.

In the same village, there is another story of empowerment waiting to be told.

Year 2005, and Sarla would dig earth, work as a construction labour and continue to worry about her next meal. Year 2010, she starts her day with hope. She smiles more often and confidence shines in her face. She now rides her bicycle and travels through different villages forming self help groups (SHGs) and training women for alternative income generation through local natural resources.

Quite a long way for a tribal woman who would have otherwise spent her entire life fighting poverty and impoverishment.

From taking the artists to different handicraft fairs across the country to providing a market linkage to their products and helping their art forms to take shapes as desired by the market through capacity building and training, Kala Mandir has been instrumental in constantly supporting, nurturing and disseminating various art forms for more than a decade now.

Sarla and Dinbandhu are just two names from a growing tribe of individuals from remote pockets of East Singhbhum, Seraikela Kharsawan and West Singhbhum districts in Jharkhand who are finding a road to livelihood and so are the traditional artists in these villages who are reaching a window to appreciation and recognition.

Showing them the path, is Kala Mandir, a leading non profit in handicraft initiatives that has been spearheading a silent journey to revive dying art forms. From taking the artists to different handicraft fairs across the country to providing a market linkage to their products and helping their art forms to take shapes as desired by the market through capacity building and training, Kala Mandir has been instrumental in constantly supporting, nurturing and disseminating various art forms for more than a decade now.

But that is just the tip of an iceberg of change. The story lies in how Kala Mandir has managed to weave its aim of infusing life into vanishing art forms with other components of livelihood in a non-profit business model which has now become synonymous to growth and success. Named as Biponi, (a rural mart owned by a federation of SHGs facilitated by Kala Mandir in Jamshedpur) is the platform for these traditional art and craft handicrafts to reach out to the outer world.


Village women of a SHG formed by Kalamandir (photo courtesy: Kala Mandir)

"When we started working for promotion of rural art and craft, we could immediately realize that for them to survive, it was extremely essential to identify market linkages and find a space in the market for such products. And therefore, when the idea called Biponi was conceptualised, it was very clear that the centre would be an interface for the artists to reach out to the outer world," says Amitava Ghosh, Secretary, Kala Mandir.

The aesthetically designed mart is home to bamboo products, grass mats, paper masks, Dokra art products among many others, all of which come from the training centres being run by Kala Mandir in 29 odd villages spread over three districts of Jharkhand. The uniqueness of the model in which Biponi operates lies in the fact that the artists themselves are present to handle the costumers and therefore get a first hand feedback on the needs and requirement of the emerging market trends. Apart from that there is a payment module by virtue of which the artists gets his due within a week and therefore is prevented from any sort of debt trap. Both the features in a way add to ownership feeling to the artists which is a very important element of any rural venture.

And therefore it's not surprising when talking about the success of Biponi as a non profit business model, Mr Ghosh shares, "From an annual turnover of Rs 1, 61,000 in 2006, we have now reached the figure of close to a crore and the demand for these handicrafts is spiralling up further."

A growth of more than 85% in four years is something that perhaps words can hardly define. It can only be felt in the happiness that echoes in Dinbandhu's voice when he says, "We have so much work with us that we hardly get time to sleep."

Years of efforts with a desire of bringing in a change driven by motivation and commitment have resulted into Biponi taking a flight and with it lives of those thousands of families who now have a reason to be happy.

Leave alone the development practitioners, this unprecedented success of Biponi model has become a learning model even for management students for the last few years.

"The concept which forms the premises of Biponi is very smart and intelligently crafted. Kala Mandir has magnificently carried out convergence of various government schemes for training and created talent for these tribal and traditional handicrafts and then helped them with market linkages. This has resulted into livelihood to these tribals as well as promotion of some of art forms such as dokra which would have died a silent death," says Uphar Kaushik of Institute of Rural Management Anand who recently finished his two month long internship with Kala Mandir. Students from other management institutes like XLRI, Jamshedpur are also studying the magic that Kala Mandir has managed to weave.

But in between these small achievements, what makes the torch bearers of Kala Mandir happy is the amount of difference that they have brought in, in the lives of these artists from areas ignored and forgotten by government authorities. Years of efforts with a desire of bringing in a change driven by motivation and commitment have resulted into Biponi taking a flight and with it lives of those thousands of families who now have a reason to be happy.

And in Biponi, perhaps many more dreams like those of Sarla and Dinbandhu are taking shape to see the light of the day and hopefully to create a more equitable society.

Ashirbad S Raha  |  ashirbad.raha@gmail.com

Ashirbad is a development writer who works for an international Non-Profit working on advancing clean technologies for a low carbon economy. When away from work, Ashirbad is happiest indulging in poetry, travelling through the mountains and freezing frames of rural lives and landscape.

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Feedback /Comments on this article
 
Kudos to Kala Mandir

The work done by Kala Mandir is very useful in eradicating poverty and improving lives of adivasi people. If more such organisations start working on similar models, certainly many more poor can lead a better life. Kindly provide information about other such grass root organisations working in India and abroad. It will help readers to reach such NGOs if their contact details are also provided.

Posted By: Kripa Shankar Prasad
Dated: Friday, August 13, 2010

inspiring

Very well written story! It is not only inspiring but also informs that change for better is happening.

Posted By: Dr. Ms. Iqbal malik
Dated: Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Inspiring

It is amazing to know about such success stories. Some where they give hope. To be honest, in this maddening world it makes one to think. Such stories keep reminding us of our purpose.

Posted By: priyanka gandhi
Dated: Friday, July 30, 2010

 
 
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The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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