Shobha Baghel, who makes handicrafts using fibre extracted from the agave plant locally called kekati, is now all set to sell her products online via the Loka Bazar website, writes
DEEPANWITA GITA NIYOGI
Shobha Baghel's nimble fingers weave magic. An artisan based in Parchanpal village of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh, Baghel is adept at making attractive handmade products like totes, hanging dolls, sling bags and dining mats from sisal, a fibre extracted from the drought-tolerant fleshy agave plant, often used as a live fencing in plantations.
Baghel, who heads the Jai Maa Sar-aswati self-help group formed in 2017, also acts as a master trainer and teach- es those willing to learn the craft. "There are 12 members in my group, but all of them do not work. I make a range of products from sisal, which resembles jute, and is obtained from agave plants. My group buys the material also widely used to make ropes from a few men who carry out the extraction process in the district. The forest department is helping grow agave in Bastar, also known as kekati locally. The fibre is extracted after crushing the leaves." she said.
Bastar divisional forest officer Stylo Mandavi informed that the forest department generally promotes agave. A certain amount of financial support has been extended to a men's self-help group for the extraction purpose as well as for the making of ropes from the strong and durable fibre. The department also uses the rope made by them.After the fibre extraction is carried out with the help of a machine which is quite a simple process, the threads are dried. For the extraction, the leaves are flattened and then the machine is used to remove the fleshy part. Lastly, the leaves are dipped in water to remove any attached particles.
Initially, Baghel had received training from the Chhattisgarh Khadi Gram Udyog Board for six months during which she also received payment of 2500 on a daily basis. This was in 2004. Before this she had no idea of sisal but enjoyed the session thoroughly. The Bastar artisan informed that while totes take up to two days to make, small items like wall decor takes a full day to complete. "I usually finish my house-hold chores first and then take up the craft work. I am currently imparting training to others as well who come to my house to learn. At least, three people are with me in this initiative. The price of my products ranges from 300 500. Of late, the extracted fibre costs 160 per kg. Earlier, it used to cost only 22-25 per kg."
Baghel used to sell her products locally, especially at the scenic Chitrakote waterfalls on the Indravati river near district headquarters Jagdalpur. She has also taken part in exhibitions and fairs like the Suraj Kund Mela in Faridabad, Haryana in 2015. Sunita Nag, who works with Baghel, took six months to learn how to make sisal items. Now, she comes regularly and sometimes takes her excess work load home. As it is a painstaking work, Nag works for four hours every day.
Finding the right platform
The recent launch of the Loka Bazar initiative, an exclusive platform for Bastar's artisans, is all set to give a fresh lease of life to people like Baghel who need a platform to showcase their products to sell across India and even internationally.
Gaurav Kushwaha, one of the brains behind Loka Bazar, said artisans in Chhattisgarh will get good exposure through e-commerce across India.
Till now, our artisans used to sell their der this and short videos are also being products in the state itself as they are all based here. So, this kind of initiative gives them the right platform and helps in creating brands under which artisans' names are also showcased," he added.
Shobha Baghel's brand is called Sheeshal on the website. Kushwaha explained that Loka bazaar will connect artisans to potential customers directly and help deliver products after direct procuring and packaging. At present, there are some 15 artisans un- Till now, our artisans used to sell their der this and short videos are also being products in the state itself as they are made on individual artisans. Other than
Jai Maa Saraswati, a self-help group formed in 2017, helps women in making attractive handmade products like totes, hanging dolls, sling bags and dining mats from sisal, a fibre extracted from the drought-tolerant fleshy agave plant, often used as a live fencing in plantations
Sheeshal, Loka Bazar also stocks other famous Bastar art forms like tuma (Tumba lamps made from dried gourd shells). As artisans need steady income, the initiative is aimed at giving them mar ket throughout the year.
The state government is also sup porting the initiative as part of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. Kushwaha said that the idea of creating individual brands for each artisan has been appreciated by the district col lector as well. "We are promoting the artisans directly and collaborating with the government for this. Products are being sold under the name of each individual artisan
Kushwaha's friend and business partner Ayush Shrivastava said all of us behind Loka Bazar want ed customers to know about the artisans as many of them have won laurels at the state as well as the national level. "We have also introduced the concept of a gift card from artisans. Lokabazar means local kala or art and we want to highlight Bastar to the world." Shrivastava added.
District programme manager Raj Kumar Dewangan pointed out that Baghel's training was part of the village enterprise programme under which women's SHGS can also take loans for different initiatives. "We have also created an artisan producer organisation called the Bastar Kalagudi Hastashilp Producer Company Limited which is owned by the various artisans of Bastar and monitored by the district administration. The company was registered in January this year." As mostly the artisans are dispersed across the district, they have been brought under one umbrella. Right now, the focus is only on Bastar but it will spread to other areas of the state gradually.