Craft Clusters and Work in Rural India: An Exploration

  • Keshab Das


With the farm sector continuing with unimpressive performance in terms of the growth of value of output, agricultural infrastructure, and also sustained massive rise in the landless agricultural laborers, non-farm employment of marginal and small farmers remains a potential source of local income and job generation. As an important source of non-farm livelihood option in villages and small towns in India, artisans—drawing upon cultural heritage, traditional skills, and entrepreneurship—have relied on local resources and, typically, served local demand. While the number of persons engaged in the huge variety of craft clusters (both handicrafts and handlooms) spread across the country is substantial, there has been a systematic policy neglect of the problems faced by the crafts as well as the craftspersons. That state policies have hardly helped preserve and promote craft skills and business is justified by the fact that there is no reliable and comprehensive official statistics on the craft activities, and that implies whatever schemes meant for artisans or their products would not be reaching most of the craftspersons. Consequently, a number of crafts are on the decline including the languishing crafts, inter alia, due to raw-material crisis, skill shortage, and dwindling demand for the products. A variety of institutional constraints facing these clusters over the decades have acted against developing an innovative ethos in the craft activities. While informality and the very small size of these enterprises characterize much of craft cluster dynamics, the policy apathy has continued to be the bane of this sector. Even the cluster development programs have been uninnovative in appreciating craft-centric issues and irresponsive to spatial development issues, particularly, economic infrastructure and enabling institutions. The chapter attempts to critically address important policy concerns through references to two cases of rural craft clusters in western and northeastern India.



An earlier version of this chapter was presented at the International Conference on Labor and Employment Issues in the Context of Emerging Rural-Urban Continuum: Dimensions, Processes and Policies organized by the S.R. Sankaran Chair (Rural Labor) at the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDandPR), Hyderabad, in March 2015. Some parts of this were also presented at the National Seminar on Role of Public Policy in Development Process (Emerging Economic/Social Scenario in the Indian Economy) organized by the Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad, in January 2016. The author is grateful to Kailas Sarap for the opportunity to write this paper and comments on an earlier draft. Several scholars provided comments, suggestions, and encouragement both at the aforesaid conferences and beyond. Sincere thanks are due to Jenine Rodgers, Ashwani Saith, Judith Heyer, G. Vijay, D. Narasimha Reddy, K.P. Kannan, S.P. Kashyap, Rajeswari Raina, Tirthankar Roy, Anita Arya, and Niti Mehta. Research support by Gani Memon, Arti Oza, and Kamlesh Vyas is greatly appreciated.


  1. Ameta, H. R. (2003). Census: Handicraft Artisans 1995-96. Seminar, 523(March), 73–75.Google Scholar
  2. Bhatt, V. V. (1998). On the Relevance of East Asian Experiences: A South Asian Perspective. In Y. Hayami (Ed.), Toward the Rural-Based Development of Commerce and Industry: Selected Experiences from East Asia (pp. 267–291). Washington: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  3. Bhaumik, S. K. (2013). The Changing Employment Scenarios in Rural India in the Era of Economic Reforms. The Indian Journal of Labor Economics, 56(3), 349–371.Google Scholar
  4. Chadha, G. K., & Sahu, P. P. (2005). Rural Industrialisation in India: A Critical Assessment of Policy Perspectives. In R. Nayyar & A. N. Sharma (Eds.), Rural Transformation in India: The Role of Non-farm Sector (pp. 395–414). New Delhi: Institute for Human Development.Google Scholar
  5. Chatterjee, A. (2014). ‘Can Our Future be Handmade?’, Fifth Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Memorial Lecture. New Delhi: Centre for Cultural Resources and Training.Google Scholar
  6. Das, K. (1999). Flexibility, Collectivity and Labor: Contextualising the Industrial Cluster Debate in India. The Indian Journal of Labor Economics, 42(1), 85–91.Google Scholar
  7. Das, K. (2001). Issues in Promoting Rural Infrastructure in India (Working Paper No. DT/67/2001). Bordeaux IV: Centre for Economic Development, Montesquieu University.Google Scholar
  8. Das, K. (2005a). Industrial Clustering in India: Local Dynamics and the Global Debate. In K. Das (Ed.), Indian Industrial Clusters (pp. 1–19). Aldershot: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  9. Das, K. (2005b). Can Firm Clusters Foster Non-farm Jobs? Policy Issues for Rural India. In R. Nayyar & A. N. Sharma (Eds.), Rural Transformation in India: The Role of Non-farm Sector (pp. 415–428). New Delhi: Institute for Human Development.Google Scholar
  10. Das, K. (2008). Fostering Competitive Clusters in Asia: Towards an Inclusive Policy Perspective (VRF Monograph Series No. 437). Chiba: Institute of Developing Economies, IDE-JETRO.Google Scholar
  11. Das, K. (2011a). Indian Rural Clusters and Innovation: Challenges for Inclusion. Economics, Management, and Financial Markets, 6(1), 283–301.Google Scholar
  12. Das, K. (2011b). Rural Industrialization in India: Enhancing Reach and Returns. In K. Das (Ed.), Micro and Small Enterprises in India: The Era of Reforms (pp. 208–224). New Delhi: Routledge.Google Scholar
  13. Das, K. (2013). Rural Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and S&T, In CSIR-NISTADS (Ed.), India Science and Technology, Volume 2 (pp. 491–495). New Delhi: Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd. (Foundation Books).Google Scholar
  14. Das, K. (2015). Institutional Constraints to Innovation: Artisan Clusters in Rural India. Asian Journal of Innovation and Policy, 4(2), 132–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Das, K., & Lalitha, N. (2015). The Handicraft Sector in Gujarat: Policy-oriented Evaluative Research Report. Submitted to iNDEXT-C, Commissionerate of Cottage and Rural Industries, Government of Gujarat (Through the Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad). (Unpublished, mimeo).Google Scholar
  16. Dev, S. M. (Ed.). (2015). India Development Report 2015. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Government of India. (2011). Working Group Report on Handicrafts for the 12th Five Year Plan. New Delhi: Ministry of Textiles.Google Scholar
  18. Government of India. (2014). Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Measurement of Poverty (Chair: C. Rangarajan). New Delhi: Planning Commission.Google Scholar
  19. Hirway, I. (2012). Missing Labor Force: An Explanation. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(37), 67–71.Google Scholar
  20. Jain, L. C. (1980). Development of Decentralised Industries: A Review and Some Suggestions. Economic and Political Weekly, 15(41-43), 1747–1754.Google Scholar
  21. Jain, L. C. (1986). A Heritage to Keep: The Handicrafts Industry, 1955-85. Economic and Political Weekly, 21(20), 873–887.Google Scholar
  22. Kannan, K. P., & Raveendran, G. (2012). Counting and Profiling the Missing Labor Force. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(6), 77–80.Google Scholar
  23. Krishnamurty, J. (1984). The Occupational Structure. In D. Kumar (Ed.), The Cambridge Economic History of India, Volume 2: c. 1757-c. 1970 (pp. 533–550). Hyderabad: Orient Longman.Google Scholar
  24. Mellor, J. W. (1976). The New Economics of Growth: A Strategy for India and the Developing World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Papola, T. S., & Misra, V. N. (1980). Some Aspects of Rural Industrialisation. Economic and Political Weekly, 15(41-43), 1733–1746.Google Scholar
  26. Ranjan, A., & Ranjan, M. P. (Eds.). (2007). Handmade in India. New Delhi: Council of Handicraft Development Corporations (COHANDS).Google Scholar
  27. Reddy, D. N. (2002). Changing Agrarian Relations and Rural Labor: Certain Emerging Issues. The Indian Journal of Labor Economics, 45(1), 47–68.Google Scholar
  28. Reddy, D. N., Reddy, A. A., Nagaraj, N., & Bantilan, C. (2014). Emerging Trends in Rural Employment Structure and Rural Labor Markets in India (Working Paper Series No. 56). Patancheru: ICRISAT Research Program Markets, Institutions and Policies, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.Google Scholar
  29. Roy, T. (2005). Rethinking Economic Change in India: Labor and Livelihood. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Saith, A. (2001). From Village Artisans to Industrial Clusters: Agendas and Policy Gaps in Indian Rural Industrialization. Journal of Agrarian Change, 1(1), 81–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shah, K. T. (1948). Rural and Cottage Industries: Report of the Sub-committee. Vora, Bombay: National Planning Committee.Google Scholar
  32. Uchikawa, S. (2014). Introduction: Development of Industrial Clusters and the Labor Force. In S. Uchikawa (Ed.), Industrial Clusters, Migrant Workers, and Labor Markets in India (pp. 1–21). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  33. Vepa, R. K. (1971). Small Scale Industries in the Seventies. New Delhi: Vikas Publications.Google Scholar
  34. Viswanathan, B. (2013). Enumeration of Crafts Persons in India (Monograph No. 25/2013). Chennai: Madras School of Economics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keshab Das
    • 1
  1. 1.Gujarat Institute of Development ResearchAhmedabadIndia

Personalised recommendations