Posts Tagged ‘India’


Friday, May 26th, 2023

(A Partnership Between Children Watch & The Bellamy Fund)

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, authored one of the greatest insights into the importance of education for conservation during a 1968 speech in New Delhi on Agricultural Development.  “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we’re taught.” 

1 The Project:

It is interesting and significant that two charities working to meet the needs of young people and adults in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu have independently settled upon the ideas behind school/community democracies.  They are seen  as the routes to actions for improving  well-being in both school and community.  One of these NGOs ‘Children Watch’ is working with the Irula tribal villagers in Kanchiporum, people who have been expelled from their forest heartland in the Western Ghats.  

In 2021 The Bellamy Fund supported a development worker to make an assessment of how school/democracies could be established in Irula communities to create a sense of place.  The idea is to develop the educational theme of animal conservation, expressed as a combination of peer educators, animators, child protection units, parent classes and children parliaments.  This led to the Bellamy Fund in 2023 supporting a day out at the local zoological gardens, organised in partnership with Children Watch, where mothers and their children could begin to bond through the life of animals to create a shared sense of place.

This project, called ToTheZoo, has been initiated with 150 Irula children, aged between 10 to 16, with their mothers.  They are going for a day trip to the local Arignar Anna Zoological Park in batches of 60 children and mothers each with 3 volunteers representing Children Watch.  AAZP  is a zoological garden located in Vandalur, in the southwestern part of Chennai.  Established in 1855, it was the first public zoo in India.  It is situated at a distance of 60 kms from the main Kanchipuram tribal villages. 

The park has 81 enclosures and more than 170 species of mammals, birds and reptiles.  The dense vegetation of the park supports about 56 species of butterfly.  The children with their mothers will spend their time at the zoo from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, the working hours and opening hours of the Zoo. They will be guided by the Children Watch volunteers and  Children Watch’s Chief Functionary to get the most from their visit, applying informal or free choice learning to understand the relationships between people and animals under the threat of extinction.  

 Free choice learning refers to the process of individuals pursuing their own interests and learning in an informal and self-directed manner. Zoos can provide an excellent environment for free choice out of school learning because they offer a wide range of educational opportunities and experiences for visitors of all ages.  The Irula groups will be encouraged to share their experience with feedback when they return to their homes in the evening.  In this way a visit to the zoo enables children to self learn about animals and effectively, foster cognitive development and promote empathy and compassion for animals.  In addition the group visit provides opportunities for societal bonding between children and their mothers, between children and between families.  This is a general starting point for building a bottom-up democratic learning community facing up to a world deprived of animals.

A Managing Trustee of Children Watch, with 3 volunteers, will facilitate, coordinate and implement the project activities of ToTheZoo. Volunteers, and the Managing Trustee will report on the project activities on a day to day basis and a report on the whole project will be produced by the Children Watch Team.  There will be reviews to evaluate and compare the future of ToTheZoo to spark an interest in learning for its own sake.  In this connection, an important learning target for ToTheZoo is to make a bilingual picture dictionary of animals.

2 The Hunter Gatherer Legacy

In 2018 Joseph Berger and Trevor Bristoe, published a paper entitled ‘Hunter-gatherer populations inform modern ecology’ which highlighted questions for understanding how humans have rapidly transitioned from a sparsely inhabited planet of hunter-gatherers to the densely populated agricultural and industrial lifestyles of today. Hunter-gatherers hunt animals in the wild.  To hunt food successfully requires the application of knowledge about the human ecosystem from close day-to-day contact with wild animals as prey and the intergenerational learning of a local cultural ecology of animal behaviour. Often nomadic, this was the only way of life for humans until about 12,000 years ago when human lifestyles began to change.  Groups formed permanent settlements and tended crops.  Few of these tribal groups survive and those that do are well aware of the social, economic, environmental and political challenges that they are facing.  They are seeking to address these challenges along with support organizations and researchers in an attempt to ensure their long-term security and well-being in biodiverse managed landscapes. 

People who recently have had  to define themselves as former indigenous hunter-gatherers are well placed to consider both past and present in their education systems. In this context, ‘being an animal’ is the unifying theme for successful resettlement in an industrial society, where they also have to focus on the non-hunter-gatherer societies with whom they are interacting.  They must do both these things with pride in their tribal origins when they may be viewed as conservationists who coexisted closely with animals as did the whole of humanity.  When humans coexist with animals, avoiding persecuting them in and around communities, they safeguard ecosystem health, agricultural stability, food security, and the creation of new sustainable economies (e.g., ecotourism). Ultimately, coexistence with animals is essential for human survival in a hot, hungry, and crowded world. Increasingly obvious are the impacts of education’s old negative attitudes towards animals as competitors. We can no longer separate humanity from nature, fail to consider long-term effects of our actions, and perpetuate conflict by indiscriminately killing wildlife.  Inter-species harmony is required to sustain life on Earth in the Anthropocene, imparting what can be learned from living with animals, such as how to share and give fair treatment to others regarding compassion with moral values.

3  Societal importance of interacting with animals

Five principal categories of benefits that people may seek during a zoo visit are family togetherness, novelty seeking, enjoyment, education and escape.

Interacting with animals almost always has a positive influence on children because animals play a role in socializing and humanizing people. Many researchers and writers have noted the value of utilizing animals as mediators to help people who are not being reached by other methods. That is why everyone should have the opportunity to build their own personal body of knowledge to live sustainably.   This means sharing Earth with other animals in a global network of protected sites governed by conservation management systems.  The network is really a huge animal sanctuary, keeping those under threat from human activities safely until sometime in the future when they can be free. This is the essence of how modern zoos see themselves, being on a par with UNESCO biosphere reserves, oceanic fishing stocks and local nature sites.  Visiting a local zoo from these perspectives can make visitors think that maybe there isn’t that much that makes us uniquely human. Maybe we need to pay more attention to what animals are doing, and try to view the world through their eyes. And, perhaps our ability to consider animal’s feelings and hope for the well-being of these other creatures is our best, and most uniquely human ability to bridge the gap between people and other animals.

Nowhere is this gap wider than in the Indian tribal Irula community of Tamil Nadu who for millenia, have had a close relationship with the forest of India’s Western Ghats. Due to forest conservation policies and environmental protection laws, these people are actual forest dwelling conservationists who have been displaced and forced to leave their homeland, becoming rootless migrants. The Irula tribe is one of the victims within this process of deforestation. As forest resources are destroyed, Irula are denied the rights to collect minor forest produce they had as as hunter gatherers, and their activities have shifted to unreliable unorganised bonded manual labour available in farming and allied activities outside the forest, such as quarrying stone, making bricks, milling rice, making charcoal, cutting wood for fuel and harvesting sugar cane. As the vast majority of Irula adults are now uneducated and illiterate it is essential for Irula children to be allowed the opportunities of a formal education. Irula parents as a community do not understand the values of education as it’s never been a part of their unsettled lives. Irula who want their children to attend school face many obstacles.  The concerned authorities hesitate to provide the children with the Community Certificates to access free education boarding facilities and scholarships earmarked by law for all Scheduled Tribes in India. Therefore admission and enrolment in schools, attending examinations, moving to other levels of school and higher education is being prevented. A lack of money for uniforms, school equipment and text books as well as social discrimination within educational institutions remains a block to their participation. 

Irula self-esteem and mutual respect is lost as individual and local powers develop and expand to leave no room for displaced tribal peoples.  They follow tradition, keeping their few customs with them.  However, there is a gradual erosion of these practices in today’s India making them even more isolated and the poorest of the poor.  Hence, enrolling in schools, attending classes regularly, listening to teachers, interacting with classmates from other communities is alien to the Irula children. Under these circumstances, the Government encourages Tribes to put their children in residential schools where children will stay in hostels and attend free schools under the Scheme for Scheduled Tribes. Children in other low income castes have opportunities to travel to villages, towns, festivals and other important historical places, with hill walks, and amusement parks. In contrast the Irula are living out of touch with modernity.  

Under these circumstances, ToTheZoo is working in partnership with Children Watch, a local Indian NGO, to sponsor a new kind of humanitarian aid where the local zoo becomes an education window on a wider societal development.  For Irula children, an outing to the zoo will open their eyes to a new understanding of the world of animals which they can explore through guided self education to reconnect them with the workings of the Western Ghat forest, now under protection as one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. 

4 A Democratic Learning Community

A democratic learning community is one in which each member has equal opportunity to influence change and contribute to the learning environment in a real and respected way, one in which learning is understood as something that every single person is capable of doing and has the right to access. In a democratic learning community the educator is no longer the omniscient teacher, telling students what to know and how to learn it.  Teachers become facilitators of daily learning,who understand the many ways in which individuals learn and value the opinions/ideas/knowledge of each learner while providing them with ample space to share that knowledge with the rest of the community. Simply put, a democratic learning community is one in which learners are educators and educators are learners. Both contribute to the educational discourse of the learning space and both share power, never yielding it  to those who want to control or manipulate learning or the space in which it occurs.

5 ZooPost

ToTheZoo is about involving communities in the educational process to provide real-world opportunities to make learning more memorable and impactful. ZooPost is about using a visit to a zoo to enhance ecological awareness using words and pictures to describe the natural world and our impact on it.  It becomes a resource for students to observe, feel, enjoy and communicate to others. ZooPost uses the exchange of postcards, analog or digital, to reveal an attachment with the wider world, which can increase their motivation to learn.  In a time where the world feels more divided than ever, connecting children with a global community of junior zoologists holds a whole wealth of positives for their education and wellbeing.  It increases their motivation in school, giving them a sense of belonging.  Students can see a reason as to why they’re learning what is being taught. Zoology is the easiest of the ‘ologies’  to democratise in this way.

6 The Welsh Connection

The ideas underpinning ToTheZoo, as an exercise in conservation education have emerged in Welsh schools where the Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to alleviate the persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.  Teachers are free to design a humanities syllabus that is relevant to the needs of their learners and communicate their ideas and achievements with ZooPost across continents.

Socialising Influences of a Zoo Visitation

Modeling a Citizen’s Environmental Network

Thursday, March 16th, 2023

1 Education Theme

International Community Understandings (ICU) is an expression of cosmopolitanism that gives an opportunity for education to bridge worlds and to work in the interest of human beings at all ages. Cosmopolitans consider themselves as world citizens. So, they “resist the temptations of the narrow nationalisms of the countries where they were born. They would never go to war for a country; but they will enlist in a campaign against any nation that gets in the way of universal justice.  Hence, cosmopolitanism can be considered as the foundation of a People-based International Community. (Bado Arsène Brice).

2 Education Objectives

(i) Groups:- Make local conservation plans and share them.

(ii) Individuals:- Become a good steward of local biodiversity.

(iii) Groups and Individuals: Create a permanent sense of place.

3 History

SCAN UK (1992-2000)

The Schools Communities and Nature project (SCAN) developed in Wales UK as a practical response to  the Rio environment summit in the 1990s.  It originated within the Dyfed County Council’s teacher’s advisory service from the response of schools in Pembrokeshire to the local Sea Empress oil spill.  It involved primary and secondary schools in Pembrokeshire piloting simple classroom methods for pupils of all ages to probe the quality of life in their communities. The aim of SCAN was to alert children to the character of their surroundings, and establish a features database that lists the good and bad things in their neighbourhood.  It failed to take root because it was a pre-INTERNET paper system that was eclipsed by the long drawn out development of classroom IT. 

4 Rationale

(i) Why India?

India is the first country to adopt the idea of a Citizen’s Environmental Network (CEN). It is centred on the concept of ‘Smartpur’ for villages.  ‘Smartpure’ emerged from the underlying idea of integrating IT into the existing practices, processes of community life.  The aim is to enable people of the community to make their lives better and contribute to the overall well-being of the village.  The IT roll out is funded by Nokia in partnership with the Digital Empowerment Foundation (  The content is managed locally by the community, its schools and businesses.

Smartpur stands on the foundation of six cultural pillars, namely education, health, finance, governance, livelihood and entertainment. Each of these pillars is further supported by wireless broadband access-enabled digital infrastructure, leading to efficiency in daily lives, transparency in governance, economic prosperity for households, and ease of access to various kinds of services and information.

Examples of Smartpur objectives:

  • communities have access to affordable medical diagnoses and consultation through digitally literate ASHA workers and telemedicine services; 
  • youth have relevant skills to find jobs or become entrepreneurs; 
  • people have timely and relevant access to welfare schemes or entitlements; 
  • households have access to digital financial services; 
  • the community has access to arts workers to help local communities plan and take part in activities like drama, dance, painting and photography and there is access to high quality audio-visual entertainment;
  • people have access to digital content for self learning about unfashionable school subjects, such as zoology, to gain an understanding of the natural world and how this can help consider ways to face global challenges such as climate change and food security, seeking to find solutions that help both animals and humans alike.

(ii) Why Kanchipuram?

‘Smartpur’ is aiming to reach Kanchipuram and become embedded in 10 villages with Asoor as the hub center and remaining 9 villages as the spoke centers. These locations may be considered as pilots for modeling a CEN.

HUB: Asoor

SPOKES: Kilpermunalur, Tennari, Kavathndagllam, Periyanattham, Kolathur, Vitchanthangal, Avalur, Chiniwalkam, Pallavaram.  Asoor village is in Kancheepuram district of Tamil Nadu located on the north east coast of the state. Kanchipuram is home to 3.9 million people. 

5  Social exclusion

Eliminating social exclusion is one of the goals of the Indian constitution, wherein the masses can completely participate in all aspects of life with dignity.  Actually, the increased usage of the Internet and information and communication technology (ICT) in contemporary times has resulted in a newform of social inequality. This social inequality is arising because of the disparities between and among the individuals in terms of digital skills, use of the Internet, and access to digital devices. This divide is referred to as “the digital divide”, which is more visible today, especially in the form of social exclusion in India.

The nexus of the climate crisis and socioeconomic and political inequalities is at the root of various climate injustices, making India an archetypal site for their manifestation.  The worst impacts of the crisis are being denied, ignored and normalised, because these burdens fall on the poor, women, Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and others with little political voice.

Internet usage by the masses largely depends on factors such as the availability of affordable devices, network coverage and connectivity, along with data costs. Today, when India is encouraging the digitalization of services, affordable data availability becomes crucial. However, even after the improvement in availability and accessibility of affordable devices and data, there are certain sections of society who, because of their social and cultural capital, have greater access to resources as compared to others. Because of its social, economic, and political implications, the digital divide has recently stimulated  the interest of academics and policymakers in community/school strategies to engage with an international community.

6 Digital literacy

.ICT, or information and communications technology, is the infrastructure and components that enable modern computing to occupy a substantial role in all our lives (especially in Covid-19 times). Digital literacy and successful use of Internet technology have become essential in today’s world. India is known for its social diversity, and the concept of social inclusion is enshrined in the Indian constitution. However, some groups and categories of people have historically been excluded and continue to be excluded today. There are varied reasons for such exclusion (e.g. caste, gender/transgenderism tribe, disability). The challenge to Smartpur is to focus on the assessment of the impact of the digital divide on Indian society, specifically on the phenomenon of social exclusion because of the coming digitalization of almost all aspects of our lives.  The notion of digital inclusion is not only about access to the technology and Internet sources, but also how access directly and indirectly influences the lives of the marginalized and deprived sections of the society.  The phenomenon of social exclusion has a deep impact on a person’s access to opportunities, especially in the context of power relationships.  Just reducing the financial and social hindrances towards Internet access would not reduce social inequalities until and unless equal efforts are made towards supporting the population and providing them the necessary digital skills. As a result, it’s critical that digital economic policies conceived and developed for sustainable growth should include initiatives to bridge these digital inequalities. Further research in the area will be more effective in addressing India’s hurdles to digital inclusion.

7  Richness of a digital learning environment

Our rapidly changing world has posed the long-standing question to education, ―How can today’s schools be transformed so as to become environments of teaching and learning that makes individuals lifelong learners and prepares them for the 21st Century?” The response to this question is the focus of the OECD project, ‘Innovative Learning Environments’, and has produced a sampling of the rich array of new visions for education around the world. As one might imagine, many learning environments have looked to technology in their efforts to redesign teaching and learning. While technology integration has long been a key area of concern in education, the intersection of technology with our rapidly transforming educational landscape is framing the nature of technology in education in profound, new ways. New and emerging technologies are provoking a re-conceptualisation of teaching and learning, while also serving as catalysts for transformation and innovation. Successfully preparing all learners with the skills and capacities for 21st century citizenship— global awareness, creativity, collaborative problem-solving, self-directed learning—is no small order, and many educational leaders are finding that the traditional forms of education that have evolved through the end of the last century are simply inadequate for achieving these goals. At the same time, while our outer world was transforming, considerable advances have been made in the learning sciences, forcing educators to reconsider how they approach learning, instruction, and the environments created to foster these. Finally, dramatic advances in educational technology have inspired powerful new ways for learners to engage with all kinds of content and activities in their own self-direct learning experiences. The juxtaposition of these three events creates a very interesting challenge and opportunity—a space to reconsider, re-imagine, and re-invent learning environments able to prepare and excel each individual for effective life-long learning.

Artisan Ecologies

Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

1 Consumer culture

Consumer culture has been defined as an economic arrangement in which the lived cultural experience of everyday life depends on social resources, plus the symbolic and material resources on which they depend, entering households (Fig 1).  The environment is thereby brought into the home as part of a process of cultural ecology mediated through markets.  Consumption, a set of behaviors found in all times and places, is dominated by the purchase of commercial products. The socio economic system is largely understood to be carried out through the exercise of free personal choice in the private sphere of everyday life. Social democratic actors are deemed to be individually free and rational.  Furthermore, consumer culture is also bound up with the idea of modernity, that is, it develops in a world no longer governed by the traditions of generation-on-generation stasis, but rather by year-on-year flux in fashion.  Consumer culture denotes a dynamic ever changing global economy in which value has been divorced from the material satisfaction of wants and the sign value of goods takes precedence.  The term sign value denotes and describes the value accorded to an object because of the prestige (social status) that it imparts upon the possessor, rather than the material value and utility derived from the function and the primary use of the object.  In this process of the global marketing mass produced goods the local artisan producer has become an ‘endangered species’.

Globalization is a process driven by multinational companies embedded in capitalism, which extinguishes old production systems to make way for the new.  It entails the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour around the world. Currently both capital and goods move freely, and services such as banking, telecommunications, media and advertising will do so increasingly. Labour mostly moves freely but the vast majority of working people in the world congregate in towns and cities where they are static.

Stasis used to be a feature of rurality which transmitted existing cultural values, norms and customary ways of doing things unchanged from generation to generation.   Its mainstay was access to the local countryside.   Countryfolk were sustained by its biophysical resources within an artisan ecosystem defined as the creative interactions beteen a wide range of practices, organizations, resources, activities and connections.  The interlocking elements of this rural ecosystem enabled culturally significant designs, products and practices to flourish in small communities. 

Artisan ecologies are focused on communities that are bottom-up and human centred aggregations of families embodying the craft atmosphere of a territory due to proximity of resources and a shared material cultural background. Such communities based on artisanship are engaged in giving form and meaning to local natural resources and managing the process of making culturally and socially significant products. 

Clay is one such natural resource.  An abundant and accessible material, clay is sustainable. Humans have used it for centuries to produce ceramics. Easy to excavate from the ground, clay requires very little processing  .

Fig1 Mind map of global consumerism

Ceramics is one of the most ancient industries on the planet. Once humans discovered that clay could be dug up and formed into objects by first mixing it with water and then firing, the industry was born. As early as 24,000 BC, animal and human figurines were made from clay and other materials, then fired in kilns partially dug into the ground.

In the present day, artisan ceramics is in decline in a world of global consumers fed by mass production.  From a 21st century perspective, where the cultural focus is now on the  sustainable use of natural resources, there can be no doubt that an understanding of the cultural ecology of ceramics should hinge on the relationships of ceramics and their production to the rest of the sociocultural system and the broader ecosystem.  Frederick R. Matson first suggested the term ceramic ecology in the published papers of the “Ceramics and Man” symposium held in 1961 under the auspices of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. He expressed a desire to move ceramic studies toward a more human focus—ceramics and man—reflecting the symposium’s title. Matson thus coined the term ceramic ecology to represent   “… one facet of cultural ecology, that which attempts to relate the raw materials and technologies that the local potter has available to the functions in his culture of the products he fashions” (Fig 2). 

Fig 2 A mind map of ceramic ecology

Invention of Eduardo Williams

Since his formulation of ceramic ecology more than half a century ago, Matson’s ideas have inspired a number of studies and the publication of several volumes. In particular, In 1985, Dean E. Arnold broadened the ceramic ecological perspective to include a systems paradigm and identified a number of systemic relationships between ceramic production and the physical environment, on the one hand, and the sociocultural system of which it was social focus on the other.  These relationships consist of basic feedback mechanisms that stimulate and/or limit ceramic production in a cultural-environmental system. Based on certain chemical, ecological, and social phenomena that underlie the nature of pottery itself, these relationships occur in many of the societies of the world and are isomorphous cross-culturally. Thus, it should be possible to explain the development of an ancient craft and the maintenance of a modern craft in a broad intercultural conceptal framework, which is applicable to all crafts.

In 1989  Lorette Mouat and Deane E Arnold, reporting on their research into the potters of El Porvenir, Honduras, revisited Matson’s ideas. They took a viewpoint that the concern with raw materials, technologies, and products in Matson’s definition implies a focus on ceramics as objects.  There is no explicit recognition of the relationships that exist between ceramic production and society on the one hand and the environment on the other. In their view, if ceramic ecology is truly one facet of cultural ecology, as Matson states, then one would expect a wide range of relationships among the production of ceramics, society, and the environment (like weather and climate), distance to resources, and sedentariness as well as the functions of the ceramic product in society. 

Thus, the term ceramic ecology implies a broader relational paradigm beyond Matson’s narrow definition and represents an important conceptual change in the way that ceramics traditionally have been viewed. 

With respect to choosing a suitable operational model to construct a cultural ecology of ceramics, pottery in the Indian subcontinent has an ancient history and is one of the most tangible and iconic elements of Indian art. Artisan family potters are one of the largest castes, spread across 212 districts of India, predominantly in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. They are known by different names in each state.  All are facing decline.

2 What’s in a name?

The castes and sub-castes of India are mainly based on occupations and the associated skill levels. The potter caste is very ancient and widespread throughout India and is concerned with the production of earthenware utensils and images of deities which are essential for domestic wellbeing and efficiency.. These terracotta handicrafts have been recovered in archeological excavations, particularly at the ancient sites of the prehistoric  Indus Valley Civilization.  This was an early example of urbanisation located in what is Pakistan and northwest India today, on the fertile flood plain of the Indus River and its vicinity. Evidence of religious practices in this area date back approximately to 5500 BCE. Farming settlements began around 4000 BCE and around 3000 BCE there appeared the first signs of urbanization. By 2600 BCE, dozens of towns and cities had been established, and between 2500 and 2000 BCE the Indus Valley civilization was at its peak.  Harrapa was one of these flourishing cities with a thriving population of terracotta potters.  The glazed Harappan pottery is the earliest example of its kind in the ancient world showing a great inventive genious.  Terracotta, taken from Latin terra cotta or baked earth, is the art of creating glazed or unglazed porous earthenware, figurines, and other decorative materials from clay which is dried and fired in temperatures of around 1000°C giving it a distinctly orange, red, brown, yellow, or grey colour. It is then covered in sand to allow it to cool down. This colour depends not only on the type of clay found in the beds of the water bodies in the area where the artist is based but also on the firing process. For example, if the smoke from firing is allowed to get out through the vents in the kiln, a red or orange colour is obtained. On the other hand, if the vents are sealed, it gives the items a black colour. Decorative pieces are either left with their original colour or painted in multiple hues to make them more attractive.

Polychrome pottery is rare and mainly comprised small vases decorated with geometric patterns mostly in red, black and green and less frequently in white and yellow. Incised ware is rare and the incised decoration was confined to the bases of pans. Perforated pottery has a large hole at the bottom and small holes all over the wall and was probably used for straining liquids.  Some pottery was ornamented on the outside with knobs. The Harappan pottery includes pans, goblets, dishes, basins, flasks, narrow necked vases, cylindrical bottles, tumblers, corn measures, spouted vases and a special type of dish on a stand which was an offering stand or incense burner.

The people of India who worked as family potters, making utensils, tiles or any related products from earth were called, “Kumbhkar.” Kumbh means clay utensils and kar means maker. Therefore, Kumbhkar later became,”Kumbhar.” Many of them belonged to the ancient “Jati” people of the mythical Prajapati community, named after Prajapati the Hindu god of creativity which positions potters at the heart of Hindism.  

Some Prajapatis/Kumhars trace the origin of their community to the beginning of civilization when humankind started using utensils to prepare and eat food. As potters they proudly consider themselves to be the initiators of the world’s first industry.  They also situate themselves in one of the most famous stories of Hinduism which is known as the great churning of the primeval ocean by the gods and demons in the quest for the nectar of immortality. This tale has deep dimensions, capturing insights into the nature of existence.  

According to a Hindu myth, the first Kumbh (earthen pot) was a gift from the Gods to collect the Nectar. Another mythological story says that when Lord Shiva was about to marry Parvati he realised he had forgotten the water carrier integral for the ceremony. Therefore, he gave a part of his skin for clay to Prajapati to make a pot and Parvati gave her blood to decorate the pot. That is when the first kumbh (earthen pot) was created and Prajapati became the first potter. 

The classification of Kumhars in the Hindu social caste system differs from region to region. For example, because the making of a pot was the first creative act of HIndu mythology, in some temples in Rajasthan, only a Kumhar can lead the worship, not the traditionally priestly Brahmins. 

The geographical location of pot-making is revealed by mapping the distribution of family names, such as Sorathia, Ladwa, and Varia. The potters who lived in Sorath were known as “Sorathia Prajapati.   Today, the Kumhar caste is mainly found in Pakistan and Punjab, Bijnor(U.P.).   

The following surnames of Prajapati. potters have persisted  through the centuries;

Bhalsod, Bharadwa, Bharadwaj, Buhecha, Chandegra, Chavda, Chhaya, Chitroda, Chohan, Dabhi, Devalia, Dhokia, Dodia, Fatania, Gadher, Gadhia, Ghadhvana, Ghedia, Girnara, Gohil, Gola, Jagatia, Jethwa, Jogia, Kamalia, Kansara, Kataria, Kholia, Koria, Kukadia, Ladva, Majevadia, Mandora, Mavadia, Maru, Nena, Oza, Pankhania, Parmar, Pithia, Poria, Rathod, Ravat, Sarvaiya, Savania, Shingadia, Solanki, Taank, Vadher, Vadukul, Vara, Vegad, Visavadia, and Yadav.  Some of these family names are often spelt in a variation for example, Gohil is spelt Gohel and Ladwa is spelt Ladva, etc.

3 Decline and revival in artisan potters

Down to the late 20th century the Indian potters worked as families with division of labour between men, women and children, each contributing a particular skill.  At the beginning of the 21st century it became apparent that throughout India the art of family potting was dying in the face of mass production of factory glazed wares.   In recent years, the decline in artisan potters has followed the decrease in the number of artisans engaged in the handicraft industry using clay, metal or stone. These artisans are now employed in manual labour or are unemployed, giving up their high skills. One of the major reasons for this change is the commercially and machine-made cheaper alternatives available in the market. The limited exposure of artisans to the market, loss of urban consumer interest, and factory competition has also added to the decline of the handicraft industry. Today India adds only 2% to the global handicrafts market. Thus, many of these artisans are living in abject poverty and economic conditions.

The government, the private, and the non-profit organizations have played a major role in trying to revive the handicraft industry. However, the impact has been isolated and limited. Much effort is required to completely revamp the rural handicraft industry using local resources. Various organizations are helping by setting up exhibitions both domestically and globally to showcase the crafts produced by these artisans. These organizations are creating marketing opportunities for craftsmen and craftswomen, to sell their products at a better price to a wider consumer base. They are using unique business models to create these market linkages from artisan to consumer, thus being profitable to all involved, especially the artisan.

With the advancement of communication networks across the country, networking can be used positively to the artisan’s advantage. New designs, ideas, orders, and markets can be within the reach of the artisan with the right training. Educating customers too is an important part of revitalizing the handicraft industry. Today online marketing is a buzzword to buy and sell artisan products. Some organizations are already connecting buyers and sellers directly online.

The handicraft industry is very important for India as it is the second largest employment generator in the rural sector. Efforts are being made to revitalize and develop it to its full potential. It is also an industry that helps to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the country. New initiatives have the potential to boost the lives of millions of Indian artisans, not just the potters.  An estimated 7 million artisans according to official figures (and up to 200 million artisans according to unofficial sources) are engaged in craft production to earn a livelihood. It further states that the global market for handicrafts is $ 400 billion with India’s share below 2 percent, representing a tremendous growth opportunity.  The report further adds that 39 percent of artisans incur production expenditures of less than Rs 12,000/ $ 215 a year and only 19 percent spend above Rs. 50,000/ $ 900 a year.


Because of their proximity to the prehistoric Indus valley, Gujarat potters have always been regarded as as continuity-inheritors of ancient terracotta working skills.  It was significant in this respect that in 2010 the Gujarat government funded a scheme to train artisans to fine tune their art to meet  modern needs.  The state government acted through the Matikam Kalakari Rural Technology Institute (MKRTI), with the help of the Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute (CGCRI) and designers from National Institute of Design (NID) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), to impart training to potters in reinventing their products and designs so that they can be sold in the domestic as well as international markets


A large number of the potters in Delhi have migrated from the neighboring states of Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. They are located in Govindpuri and Hauz Rani: Kumbhar Basti.  A number have settled in the Prajapati Colony in A Uttam Nagar that was set up in the 1970 to house the potters coming from the countryside. As most of the potters had names connected with their caste occupation the colony was called Prajapati. Currently over 400 families practicing this craft in the colony and provide their products across Delhi and NCR. The methods adopted by the potters are similar to those employed in the pottery tradition(s) of their ancestral homelands. Black, red, and yellow clay in the form of small pieces is obtained from Rajasthan and Delhi. This is mixed and dried, after which water is added to it. The resulting mixture of wet clay is filtered through a fine sieve to remove pebbles. After the clay has been kneaded into homogenous flexible dough, the prepared clay is made into a variety of artifacts using either the throwing technique. Coiling techniques are used in making large products that are too big to be thrown on the wheel and to make those with shapes that cannot be turned on the wheel. After giving shape to the item and drying it in the shade, it is baked in the kiln. 

Aruvakode in Nilambur, Kerala

Pottery making in Aruvacode is the story of Jinan, a rebel, activist, designer. Moreover this is the story of lives that he touched and changed positively for ever.

A news report on how the destiny of Aruvacode, from being a simple potter village had changed to becoming a hub of sex-workers, impelled Jinan to proceed to Aruvacode, a sleepy village by the river in Nilambur in Kerala. 

According to Jinan,“the reason for such a drastic transformation in the village was the rush of cheap substitutes of steel, aluminum, and plastic products to pottery in the market. The rush had pushed the demand for earthenware off the edge and the artisans were left a troubled and distressed lot. Seized of their traditional labour, women of the village were forced into sex-work.”

Several years with the potters of Aruvacode had revealed to him that the issue of development lies deep in preserving the self-respect and creativity of the concerned community.  

In his presentation in “De-colonising the Aesthetic Sense: The story of craft revival in Aruvacode potters’ village”, Jinan argues that “any community, armed with an absolute sense of self-respect and untarnished creativity, is well able to sail through all their problems. It is a dilemma of the ‘educated’ and the culturally uprooted sections of our society that development is perceived more on an economic plane. It is these sections that genuinely consider the distressed community as incapable of confronting and solving their own problems”.

“The advent of consumerism had held out its stakes and the artisans failed to keep pace with the fancy needs of the new consumer. In earlier times the artisans had always responded excellently to the local needs of the people, as a strong cultural bond held the user and the producer in unison. But every nuance of modernity brought with it newer difficulties for the potters”.

Treading therefore very carefully, not to step on to the much-travelled path of the interventionist agencies, he took up work with the potters.  Honouring his own integrity, he ensured that the aesthetic quality of whatever they made was to be rooted in their own culture. He therefore limited his role to encourage the incorporation of novel utilitarian aspects into their creations. It was a slow process and the products that emerged were evolved at a natural pace  (Fig 3).

 Fig 3 ‘Kathakali depicted in terracotta tiles

. Designed by artisans and potters trained by social entreprenuer K.P. Jinan Posted by GP (The Blue Wonder blog:March 2011)

Jinan concludes ; “My journey into the world of the rural artisan communities was not with the intention of ‘developing’ them or educating them. I went to them to regain that which I had lost in the process of getting educated; to learn from them. Having escaped ‘education’ and ‘development’ they were still original and authentic and were holding on to the culture and world-view, which sustained them for centuries. I perceived the rural / tribal communities as being wise and evolved; and recognised that only by learning from them could we lead sustainable lives.

The basic ideas behind their training programmes were to help the individuals regain their wisdom and confidence which lies embedded within their own communities and culture, believing that creativity can and does solve many a problem related to self-esteem.  Jinans work has created a demand for the unique products developed at Aruvakode and products from this small ‘colony’ are being displayed publically and privately in several cities in India”.

4 An ecological model of artisanship

In a recent debate at London’s Tate Gallery about when craft becomes an art, it was suggested that perhaps intention makes the distinction. If a maker intends to express something perhaps that makes it art.  However, makers often felt that it was the material they worked with that made it craft – textiles, ceramics, glass seem to fall into the craft category, never mind if their intention as maker might be an artistic one.  

On the other hand, ….”perhaps it’s how a maker learnt their skill. As an apprentice coming through a process of learning a skill, hand to hand, as it were? That’s craft. As a fully formed genius honing an expressive talent? That’s art.  Perhaps it’s use. Something wearable or useable – jewellery or furniture for example – seems to fit neatly under the craft label, while something that has no clear practical purpose might be called art. However, this doesn’t take into account the decorative crafts, nor the artists who produce practical items”.

Trying to answer such apparently simple questions misses the point that creativity arises in the maker’s environment.  Ceramics, for example, has a cultural ecology that presents an holistic, conceptual understanding of how people, craft and art connect in the environment through the creativity in families. The diversity of the artisan’s immediate landscape is an essential resource.  Instead of endlessly debating the question, what defines an artist or a craft maker, or even divides an artist from a craft maker, an environmental approach leads to a total understanding of artisanship as an expression of communities’ creative ways of organizing and triggering social interactions.  The broad aim of ‘making’ is to master local ecosystem services to improve livelihoods.  

Increasing, global competition from mass production is leading many artisans to live in a precarious, fractured and marginalised condition.  Artisans are even more endangered in the developing world, where they often face subjection to large monopoly businesses, market corruption and unreliability, as well as lack of perception of international consumers’ trends. To face the complex challenges of the current and future world, the activities of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of production, described as service design, have to change.  They have to move towards strategies and systems that address social and environmental problems, particularly those associated with living sustainably.

Within this dynamic arena, there is a general upsurge of interest in artisanship. Artisanship is defined as the human-centred economic activity of giving form and meaning to local natural resources.  Hand work or the control of mechanised and digital tools, are applied to the process of making small, unique and flexible batches of culturally and socially significant goods.   The new aim of service design is to improve quality of the products and the interaction between the service provider and its customers.  This is considered as a necessary resilient response to the increasing demand for flexible, customised and redistributed manufacturing that reconnects communities to their local material culture and reaches out to global markets.  These ideas may be summarised in a concept map of ceramic ecology Fig 4).  

Fig 4 Concept map of ceramic ecology

The map may be generalised for other expressions of artisanship.  For example, the textile sector has its own artisan ecology.  It encompasses a high level of employment of skilled workers, has a wide range of applications and ever-increasing consumption trends.  These all cause urgent environmental and social challenges. Also, it is one of the most complicated productive artisan ecologies, involving many different actors (i.e. farmers, manufacturers of fibres, yarns, fabrics and apparel/carpet retailers), service sectors and waste management issues.

Several service design approaches could be adopted by textile artisanship to produce textiles which are environmentally responsible, socially just and economically fair, as well as culturally meaningful and enriching at a personal level. The weaver’s imagination could be summoned to encourage sustainable development, building resilient interconnections between environmental, technological and economic resources, social and cultural values. This could be achieved through the shared efforts of policy makers, NGOs, artisans’ communities and individuals, as summarised in Table 1. 

Jaipur artisan weavers

Jaipur Rugs Foundation (JRF) is a non-profit organization that catalyzes sustainable livelihoods for people engaged in an entire carpet making chain by empowering them to establish collective enterprises through enhancing their artisanal and business skills. The overall work mandate of JRF is to reach out to remote rural areas of India and establish bonds with destitute communities, especially the women, enabling them to start weaving not just rugs but also their own lives.  NK Chaudhary established JRF to promote economic prosperity among marginal communities. Starting with two looms and an extraordinary vision, he has been able to connect people around the world with craftsmanship of Indian village weavers. 

Most of the artisans are women and the JRF enables them to gain economic independence working at home. The goal is to bring positive sustainable change in the lives of artisanal communities ‘providing a life of happiness and dignity’.  To achieve this, the JRF concentrates on providing work for unemployed and unskilled women living in rural villages and seeks to give training in the craft of rug-weaving. Once a woman becomes a working artisan, she also gets an opportunity to integrate with the Jaipur Rugs inclusive development business model.  The subsequent phase is to deliver technical training and augment their skills and knowledge and release their artistic creativity (Fig 5).  For the first time ever, weavers get to be the designers of their own rugs. Each rug is a masterpiece for the design inspiration it weaves. It is imbued with the individuality of the artisan who made it and evidence of the release of her unique artistry.

Fig 5 Developing creativity

To release this creativity every weaver is part of a grassroots network that requires specialised logistical support.  Raw material is dropped off at an artisan’s home where they work on the product. To ensure customers receive high quality products, quality supervisors inspect looms to help ensure a consistent output while tracking progress. These supervisors also ensure the artisans are serviced so they are not interrupted by the shortage of yarn or any other such factor limiting their earning capacity. When completed, the rug is picked up at the weavers doorstep and sent on to the next stage of the rug making progress. These visits also ensure that weavers are paid every month at their looms. At present, these networks stretch across 600 villages in five Indian states connecting 40,000 artisans. 

Jaipur’s weavers thus have the ability to work creatively from their rural home in a more comfortable working environment than most entrepreneurs and corporate employees across the world!  However, one of the biggest challenges faced by artisans is the lack of awareness and knowledge regarding opportunities intended for them under various social welfare schemes. JRF has been playing an instrumental role in facilitating access to artisan cards. These are issued to the artisans by Development Commissioner, Handicrafts (Government of India) with support from District Industries Centers (DICs).  The cards recognise the recipient is a skilled worker and eables them to receive various benefits provided by the government. JRF also seeks to equip artisans with basic knowledge and skills that help them save money to shape a brighter future for their families. The focus is on improving well-being of artisans and their communities by providing access to various socio-economic educational and medical benefits. This entails assistance in formalities like filling forms, providing supporting documents and linking them with banks. In addition, a system of payment, ‘M-Pesa’ by Vodafone, has been promoted for weavers to facilitate their financial transactions.  M-Pesa means “m-money” in Swahili and is the global brand for Vodafone’s Mobile Money service. The service is now present in 10 countries. Mobile money is a digital representation of cash which Vodafone stores safely in a ring-fenced bank account (a “trust” account). The mobile money account of each customer is linked to their mobile phone account.  M-Pesa is specifically designed to benefit customers who have no access to banks.

To summarise, the Jaipur Rugs project is a very sucessful process of engaging village artisans with the vision of a commercial organization with a charitable arm that promotes empowerment through instilling an entrepreneurial mindset. The purpose is to enable artisan weavers acquire higher responsibilities and take control of their lives with an owners’ mindset. The is realised in the last facet of entrepreneurship development that creates leaders at the grassroots who create more leaders as they spearhead the mission of enabling sustainable livelihoods to all those in need.  

Jaipor rugs are marketed globally with the motto ‘purchase with purpose’. In effect JRF is helping to shift urban wealth from the rich to the rural poor!