The Two Waves of Covid Wash Off the Handicraft Industry

Arts & Culture Bangalore Business Covid-19

Craftspeople and handicraft shop owners struggle to make ends meet as the Covid pandemic keeps tourists and other customers away.

Bengaluru: For the past 28 years, N. Kumar and his family have been making wooden handicraft products from their home in Mysore and exporting them to nearby states. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed him to a state of bankruptcy and under a huge financial debt.

Unable to earn enough during, what can be called the first phase of the pandemic, he suffered a loss of around Rs. 7-8 lakh. Feeling some respite in January when the cases reduced, he resumed his operations, only to face a much bigger crisis in the last 10-20 days as the cases in Karnataka hiked. Presently, he has a loan of Rs. three lakh on his head that he has to pay without any sales.

He is not alone. The majority of the handicraft craftspersons in and around Bengaluru are facing financial difficulties as the subsequent waves of the pandemic have completely washed off their earning capacity. While some artisans have resorted to going back to their home states, some are looking for an alternate means of livelihood, like drivers or labourers.

A few craftspeople working with Manu R, the owner of Sri Nanjundeshwara Handicrafts, a manufacturing unit in Bengaluru, have also switched careers, a few of them have switched to driving. He believes that both he and they have no other choice but this.

“Previously before the pandemic, we used to earn around Rs. 5-6 lakh per month. Last year, our overall sales barely touched Rs. 5-6 lakh,” said Manu R.

Most of the handicraft shops in the city are surviving on what little reserves they had from before. Suchindra, the owner of SC Handicrafts is one of them.

“Our business is down by over 90 per cent. Even our online sales on Flipkarthave seen a decline of over 80 per cent,” he said. Since there have been no sales in the past six to eight months, they have not purchased from local artists too, the majority of whom are from Karnataka.

Clara Abraham from the Cottage Emporium in Bengaluru sees three reasons behind the decline of handicraft products.

“There are no tourists in the state who used to buy such products and this is affecting the sales. Also, people are not having corporate gatherings where such gifts were given to one another. Interior and design business were also down during the pandemic which affects the sales,” she explained.

While she maintained that the sales in her store at the HSR Layout have also reduced significantly, she cannot give out the exact numbers as it would affect the “morale” of the local artisans who depend on this shop run by the government.

The few exhibitions that happened from November 2020 to January 2021 saw a good response and helped the community to sail through a rough couple of months, said KC Sudershan from the Sampoorn NGO.

The 21-year-old NGO works with over 1800 craftsmen mostly from Karnataka, out of which around 40-50 had moved out of this field till February 2021.

“From March we are again shut down. For us this is a lockdown situation as our industry depends on people who have money and who are passionate about arts. It is not an essential commodity,” he said.

The Covid-19 pandemic was the final nail in the coffin for the handicraft industry, which was already suffering after the demonetization and the Goods and Service Tax implementation.

“Two reasons had already affected the handicraft sector very badly even before the pandemic, demonetization, and GST. Somewhere, things were turning around in late 2019, but then the pandemic stuck. That was the icing on the cake, we have now gone back at least five to seven years,” explained Sudershan.