When the government announced in the Union Budget that it was setting up of a Hastakala Academy in Delhi “for the preservation, revival and documentation of the handloom/handicraft sector,” little did people know that it would be displacing something that has been part of the city’s ethos for more than half a century.
The Hastakala Academy is going to come up in the place of National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum (NHHM), commonly known as National Crafts Museum, on Bhairon Marg. In fact, once the academy is operational, NHHM is going to be “integrated” into it and will be run as a subsidiary.
The ministry of textiles, which runs the museum and will run the academy as well, had been quietly working towards it much before the formal announcement was made. It was in December last year that personnel from the ministry visited the museum and conveyed to the administration that they were planning to set up a handicrafts academy there instead.
Ruchira Ghose, chairperson of NHHM, whose term officially ends on Sunday said, “When officials from the department of handicrafts visited here a few months ago and said they were planning to set up the Hastakala Academy, I explained there was no space on this site for the kind of plans they had. But they seemed to have made up their minds because they started measuring the spaces in the galleries to convert into “classrooms”.
The museum was set up in 1958 by the late freedom fighter and conservationist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, with an aim to preserve traditional art and crafts and make them commercially viable. It took over two decades for NHHM to evolve into its present form. Today, the five-acre premises holds 35,000 distinctive pieces reflecting Indian craft traditions through painting, embroidery, textiles, clay, stone and wood, all housed in the building designed by architect Charles Correa in the 1970s.
For 18 years, the museum was run by culture historian Jyotindra Jain, till 2001. After his tenure ended, it remained headless till 2010, when Ghose took over. Friday was Ghose’s last day in office. In between sorting through files and papers, she spoke with a little sadness about the unfinished tasks that remain.
“We were sanctioned a generous budget for the rejuvenation project in 2012. We have been able to utilise slightly less than half the budget till now, as the work has now been stopped. Whatever the plans are for this institution, the repairs to the building are essential if it is to be used at all,” Ghose said.
Officials in the ministry of textiles said the academy is on track, and right now, the project is in the stage of getting funds approved from the government. “There is a plan in place but we can’t share any details as of now. The academy will come up in its stipulated time frame,” said an official.
Ghose said there seems to be a hurry to push the project. Some weeks ago, the museum was shifted overnight from the department of handlooms to the department of handicrafts, which is apparently going to spearhead the Hastakala Academy. What may concern art lovers and collectors in the city is what happens to the collections inside the museum. The museum represents more than a hundred years of the craft history of India. “To dismantle a national crafts museum, and put in its place an academy, seems a travesty. There has been no concept note circulated so no one really knows what is going to happen. Perhaps things will coast along for a while and then start to unravel,” said Ghose.