Like other traditional art forms of India, block-printers of Bagru, too, have been fleeced by middlemen and traders. Through community initiatives, however, the printers are equipping themselves to work on their own terms.
Bright printed fabrics spread at the common village ground that once formed a farmland, printing units at nearly every household with pits for dyes, the sight of artists printing with wooden blocks under tin roof in the severe heat of Rajasthan, occasionally resting their eyes and minds, and the wood carvers sitting on the threshold of their workshops piercing their way through the design on the block; this makes for a regular morning at Bagru, a village on Jaipur-Ajmer road in the arid state of Rajasthan where the traditional Bagru block printers reside.
Nearly 30 kilometres from Bagru, in the state capital Jaipur, is the factory of Anokhee, a well-known apparel and lifestyle label that uses traditional crafts such as the block printing, primarily from Rajasthan, and boasts of employing the local artists. Spread across a vast area, the factory has definite units for production and quality control. In its air-conditioned environs, it employs nearly 300 workers, predominantly women and outsources work to approximately 2000 people in its network that include printers, dyers and washer men. Apart from the manual labour, the heavy machines and equipment support the methodical mass production. The enterprise has systematically segregated its work and has quality checks at all stages of fabrication.
While Anokhee is an example of enterprise working with the artists and involved in the production, there are numerous retailers and export houses that purchase from the printers to sell at exaggerated costs. An indigo Bagru print cotton stole, for instance, would cost INR 800 in the village itself and nearly INR 2000 in a store in Jaipur, merely 30 kilometres away, indicating the fat margins made by the middlemen or the traders, leaving the artisans themselves high and dry, even if the demand for their products has been rising across the nation. This is an issue not just with Bagru’s artisans, but indeed a nationwide issue.
Some artisans have begun to eliminate the middlemen, connecting directly with the customers for maximising their returns.
Read more about Bagru Art and the initiatives of the artists in India & You (Sept-Oct 2015) here