Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious mission ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ is a historic step as it seeks to take Indian artisans on to the fast track of success. It provides artisans an opportunity to embrace technology and to enhance quality efficiency
Showcasing his mettle: An artisan at work
The handy work of artisan is an instinct of an anthropomorphic reverberation to the nature surrounding him. This is the fundamental cognitive elucidation passing down for generations from time immemorial. Echoing Prime Minister’s dream ‘AatmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan’ is a ubiquitous invigoration to all actors in the society including artisans. Artisans can transmogrify visualisation of the great visionary Shri Modi to the hearts of citizens while playing their role as economic agents. Art can’t be seen in isolation as an economic activity, rather it is an influencer of socio-economic sustainability. It is a revolution, rejuvenation and an agent to reignite the very cognition of the citizens in the society.
Artisans and Political Activism
In medieval time, artisans have played very important role in shaping the Western world. Until early 19th Century, most of the products were handmade and the artisanal factors were determinant to the market. Highly skilled master and journeyman were capturing elite markets like royal families. In the Western world, the concept of artisan Guild made artisans to unite and get the desirable price that they could get. During the first century, the impact of Guilds is prominent in the Asia minor countries, especially in the Byzantine world. Many such guilds have played an active role in the political determinism too. These guilds got slowly evolved as a revolutionary organisations, secret societies etc during the medieval age when industry 2.0 has taken prominent position in production line.
From the French Revolution of 1789 onwards, artisans have developed connection with ideas of political activism. The artisans from sans-culottes (common people of Lower Classes) participation in political movement on direct democracy, social equality, and nationalism initiated an evolution that was continued with different national variations throughout the 19th Century. Radical artisans showed up again in the Revolution of 1848 in France, in the Paris Commune (1871), and were a detrimental force in the French socialist movement at the end of the 19th Century. But they can also be seen in the Fratellanza artigiana d’Italia (founded 1861; Fraternity of artisans of Italy) that has created a national democratic movement in Italy. Artisans in German social democracy—August Bebel, co-founder of the Social Democratic Party, was a wood turner The Chartist movement (1838–1848) in Britain should also be seen in this context. During those days small producers formed the backbone of many radical organisations but also played an important part in influential social utopian projects in 19th Century Europe. Charles Fourier’s phalanxes as well as Étienne Cabet’s Icarie were based on the image of the artisan, while in Germany Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen’s agricultural cooperative banks and Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch’s cooperatives were addressed primarily to the artisans and their interests.
Link Between Artisans and Political Parties
The root reason for such activism by artisans was that technological innovations had made skills of human beings irrelevant in the production function of society. At the same time the influence of artisans remained predominant in that society due to their organised guilds and getting access to the emerging democratic political thought and influencing the common man. Radicalisation of artisans has not only helped Left-wing movements but also the Right-wing movements. This is especially true of Germany where urban artisan guilds have moved to Right-wing politics. German artisans are famous in protecting their respective guilds especially in urban centres. During 1980s’, the German artisans came up with the idea of self-help and cooperative movement. This was mostly Right-wing oriented. The masters were getting honour from the Right-wing government. Most of the masters were affiliated to Right-wing by the beginning of 19th century. This has established a strong link between artisans and Right wing political parties.
Building Digital Bridges
In India, artisans were considered as most important elements in the pre-and post-British era. Indian artisans are not organised like guilds of the West, rather they have mostly caste-based associations like weavers and cobblers etc. Traditionally India also had Master and Journeyman concept in promotion of art but most of the knowledge was passed on to his own family. The castes engaged in writings and paintings, music and dance communities could draw the benefit of moving to political movements where as other artisans are neglected since they couldn’t catch the Western civilization wind. There was ab intio resistance by the artisans in adopting technologies by the artisans. Max Weber believes that weight of the caste is the reason for such isolation. It is lucky time for India since Narendra Modi who has deep desire of Sab Ka Saath Sab Ka Vikas can include by building digital bridges between haves and have nots. His aim of digitisation of Indian society is giving the ability for Indian sans-culottes. Thrithankar Roy mentioned in his paper, conflicts could arise over the protection of knowledge, over the right to make a change, in the form of resistance, or as a choice between maintaining and diluting quality. Conflicts were absent when the mediation of social and political leaders was available and when skilled artisans emerged from unconventional backgrounds. By enhancing the capacity of artisans to innovate through digital platforms, AI, ML technologies and the skill gap of individuals existed within a historiography that has been rather neglectful of both craftsmanship and the craftsman.
In a traditional artisan’s workshops, the master and journeyman would assemble entire product be it a shoe, a suit, chair or dress. Though it is a very effective system the output of production is very low to meet the growing demand due to population growth and disposable incomes after 1812 war. The Westward expansions of societies, improved transportation and telecom technologies and colonialisation have become catalysts for the demand. This demand has put the masters in a task of improving production using management principles.
Bastardisation (as journeymen termed) of the Crafts is a new concept emerged in the crafts production. Masters broke the production process down into several simple steps, each of which could be done by almost any untrained apprentice rather than engaging one single highly skilled journeyman. In this system, the skill of journeyman has become insignificant. It has eventually become mechanisation of crafts production, which has made many journeymen workless. In the postmodern nascent liberal societies like USA, the concept of Guilds have not worked out. May be by that time the invasion of technological innovations and liberal thinking was already formulated in these societies. Artisans of USA could not establish the guilds unlike European societies. Artisans have to embrace market forces economic principles. Cheap land, constant demand of labour, American way of resisting and liberal regulatory framework in the markets are non tenable to guilds kind of European approach. Artisans have taken a celebratory approach like organising events, exhibitions, parades marching under the banner of their crafts, riding on the floats displaying their works etc. Fourth of July parades have become more popular holidays for such displays.
Artisans as Cultural Mediators
Right from the days of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro to Mesopotamian cultures, the trade of art has played a major role in cultural mediation. During the days of King Solomon, the trade of artifacts by artisans have played role of cultural mediation from India to the Middle East. Artisans have carried cultural and political influence in the city’s quarters. All across Europe to Asia, artisans took part in singing associations, in religious circles, or gymnastic groups etc. Whenever there is a massive displacement like Jews in 70 AD, artisans got a chance to exchange ideas to move from East to West and vice versa.
In Europe these groups were committed to their national goals due to their association with the Right-wing moments. Due to this reason the European artisans played a tremendous role in promoting nationalism, regionalism and localism. In Italy, Germany and Austria artisans started to invent their own national traditions, specific idioms and developed collection museums of huge scale. The State and capital interventions were under pressure to sponsor such activities. Artisans gave values to society, established personal links rather than isolation, quality rather than volume, family bonds than disturbance to social form.
In Indian context, the social structure has preserved the art and skill within the family which perhaps has some positive impact in skill improvement and innovations. The colonial rulers found no advantage in promoting the local artisans which may act against their industrialisation agenda. Though there are some fringe cases of promoting the local arts by the colonial bureaucrats, the overall impact is insignificant. There are some documentations on internationalisation of Indian artifacts during colonial era. Most of the papers that are recorded in Oxford Press are like reports of bureaucrats about Indian arts. Any publication done by bureaucrats has its own inherent weakness since they are trained to see things only through their eyes or written to satisfy the whims of bosses. The 360 degrees examination of issues without biases inadvertently keeps projecting as mere acts of servitude. Indian artifacts have surely influenced the Western societies as well as principalities in British India. Here we can’t neglect a Hungarian Jewish women Shobha Magdolna Friedmann’s contribution to artisans who founded central cottage industries corporation of India ltd in the post Independent Indian history.
Artisans’ Digital Revolution
All financial institutions should be asked to enhance their Fin Tech solutions and availability to artisans. Since there is a remarkable improvement in digital connectivity, it is easy to offer business transactions and advertisements over digital networks. These efforts are aimed at improving sustainability and business development of artisans. During the days of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics, it is very difficult for artisans to survive without getting aid of these technologies. A centrally located software tools in designing and creation, tools including artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms should be hosted and made available to all artisans to use in their own product development and designs. Same digital infrastructure can be used for knowledge sharing with global and domestic peer group artisans. Furthermore, the government should come up with virtual exhibitions and encourage to host large global virtual exhibition centers by enhancing same digital infrastructure.
AatmaNirbhar Bharat through Artisan Andolan is a campaign to promote national patriotic sprit through artisans. The well thought leader Shri Narendra Modi, who can augment his ideological vision with emerging technological revelations for building stronger nation has dispensed a systematic flagship programme ranging from Digital India and Make in India to AatmaNirbhar Bharat. This is the time to handhold artisans to derive double edge benefits to the nation and through them propagate patriotism and strengthen economy and image of the nation. The so-called Andolan Jeevis would also drive their focus with artisans in promoting national importance and need of the patriotic spirit while building Indian self-reliance in futuristic arts and culture that is needed to bind the Indian brotherhood. These days, the labour migration is unstoppable. The migrated diaspora should remain with Indian ethos and should be connected to their soil.
(The writer is a social activist)