The range of traditional skills in India, from folk crafts to water-harvesting techniques to construction practices, is matched only by a lack of knowledge about its vastness. Arts such as acrobatics are under a threat of extinction. A series of initiatives by the Delhi-based Centre for New Perspectives (CNP) is repositioning such skills within the contemporary economic framework. Kathak dancer Navina Jafa, President, CNP, says, “The best way to approach this sector is to initiate small pilot programmes that will help us understand how to create policies, scalability and economic value so as to prevent deskilling and migration.” It recently held a two-day conference and workshop on “Augmenting Skill India — Conserving Cultural Skills”. Excerpts from an interview:
What are the skills that CNP is engaging with?
The Centre is a think tank, and the mandate covers the traditional skill sector or paramparik hunnar. We have been engaging with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to initiate work in this sector in a way that covers several subjects of cuisine, linguistics, crafts, performing arts, health, beauty, and scientific knowledge systems such as botanical and agricultural practices. CNP identifies a skill set, builds hypothetical pilot models, and organises a multi-stakeholder workshop to discuss the launch of such models.
The market is huge we have the skilled population, that just needs opportunities for capacity building which will result in good products. They need to be part of a more formal sector. All creative professionals, such as technical team directors, producers and trainers, will be paid well and have a stake in the organisation.
What is the structure or system to uplift the practitioners of traditional skills?
We are launching three pilots that aim to be introducing institutions. One of the models is to reorganise the Indian Street Performer Artist Trust of Delhi under magician Ishamuddin. This would be a social enterprise to aid the formal launch of a busking scheme in Delhi. This would enhance the conservation of intangible heritage, and increase the value of Delhi as a creative city. Productions will be created for formal public spaces in Delhi. For this, we will organise a workshop on May 15 at the India International Centre.
The stakeholders include the Delhi Government agencies, office of Lieutenant Governor, Delhi Tourism, the police and the Delhi Metro, while the corporates involved are the Select group, YES Bank and JK. Model number two is a cooperative of artist groups made of the eight Northeast states that will be like the Phare Circus of Cambodia and evolve as a social enterprise. Here, large travelling productions will be created for even international spaces. The third model is a Busking scheme in Maharashtra. The upgraded skilled artists will be able to connect with event management companies, festivals of India and for development communication.
What is the role of the NSDC in this initiative?
Without NSDC, this uncharted sector cannot be addressed and we hope they continue to back all our programmes since we are addressing prevention of deskilling, migration and displacement of traditionally skilled communities.
Have you initiated any programme at the grassroots?
We have also initiated a programme on re-positioning calligraphers in Delhi with the Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation, and are hoping to launch programmes on creating grassroots cadres of traditional maternity health specialists and auxiliary skills in Ladakh and Assam.