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Weaving a Better Life
When Vijaya Switha graduated from IRMA (Institute for Rural Management, Anand), she had the experience of working with craftspersons. The challenges they faced to produce and market led her to the one question, “What do rural enterprises in India need the most?” The answer was development of skills, enhancement of knowledge and market access. Vijaya found her cause—working with the artisan rather than engaging with the art. 
 
Chitrika Foundation was established in 2005 to revamp weaver producer enterprises into business enterprises. It provides turnkey solutions and assistance to the handloom weaving sector, India’s second largest employer after agriculture. Chitrika works directly with weavers to establish weaver-owned, weaver-managed and self-sustained production companies under the progressive and pro-community APMACS Act, 1995 (Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Cooperative Societies Act, 1995). 
 
In Chitrika’s model, a majority stake in the production company is held by weavers’ enterprises and the remainder by other stakeholders. Each weaver’s enterprise has its own support units for raw materials, dyeing, printing and garmenting.
 
Production companies empower weavers to procure finance, negotiate for raw materials, innovate designs, ensure a fair price for the product and undertake marketing. The centralised pre-loom, on-loom and post-loom model is a first-of-its-kind in India and offers increased income to the weaver. Currently, Chitrika works with two production companies in Srikakulam and East Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. Vamshadhara Weavers’ Producing Company, in Punduru (Srikakulam), has 500 members. It started as four cooperative societies that merged in 2014. Srikakulam is well-known for khadi and traditional designs. 
 
Godavari Women Weaver’s Services Producer Company, formed in 2014 in Mandapeta, in collaboration with ALC-India, is India’s first women weavers’ producing company with 247 members. They aim to reach 3,000 women weavers, the mainstay of the weaving industry in East Godavari, since men have moved away to nearby towns for employment. The centralised process has given weavers the advantage of training programmes and access to buyers’ feedback leading to design innovations with inputs from a design consultant. Members have looms at home and weaving is a family activity. On an average, three members of a family are involved in the various weaving processes. Each loom changes designs every year. Dyeing is now a mechanised process. The weavers are introduced to technology in marketing, production and inventory management. 
 
The producer companies are now in charge of their marketing efforts. Apart from handloom exhibitions all over India, the fabrics are retailed through Fabindia and Jaypore. A gratifying development is that 10 young, educated weavers are now involved in the production companies. 
 
Recent milestones for Chitrika’s efforts have been a 100% increase in incomes at Vamshadhara Weavers’ Producing Company and 100% change in product portfolio in these producing companies in the past five years. Chitrika is a lean organisation with 12 people. They recently received a grant from Ford Foundation. Other sources of income are the consultancy projects they undertake in artisan support organisations. Some funding partners include the Government of India, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Rang De, Friends of Women’s World Banking, Ratan Tata Trust and Access Livelihoods Consulting India Public Ltd.
 
As Gandhiji wrote in Young India in 1920, “I feel convinced that the revival of hand-spinning and hand-weaving will make the largest contribution to the economic and the moral regeneration of India. The millions must have a simple industry to supplement agriculture. Spinning was a cottage industry years ago, and if the millions are to be saved from starvation, they must be enabled to reintroduce spinning in their homes and every village must repossess its own weaver.”
 
Nearly a century later, Chitrika’s work with the weavers of Andhra Pradesh shows Gandhiji’s words coming to fruition, in no small measure. All donations to Chitrika are exempt from income-tax under Section 80G.
 
Chitrika
Second Floor, 17-1-383/47, 
4th Cross Road, 
Vinay Nagar Colony, 
Saidabad, Hyderabad, 
Telangana 500 059. 

 

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Easy-to-read History of Indian Railways
There are several books on the history of Indian Railways, and they are of two kinds—either academic, heavy-reads, or coffee table books with glossy pictures, peppered with some text. The book is easy to read, quick to finish and to the point, as the present generation wants; yet, it sums up the entire history of the Railways up to independence. But, let me point out, compiling an easy-to-read book is one of the most difficult tasks which has been well accomplished.
 
A Niti Aayog member, Dr Debroy has been the chairman of the high-powered committee to restructure Indian Railways. (Many of the committee’s recommendations are being implemented, the main one being the discontinuation of a separate Budget.) As the committee’s work progressed, the members were curious about Indian Railways’ evolution and accumulated an inventory of facts and trivia about it. The book is probably an outcome of this knowledge.
 
Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry starts with an introduction by business writer Gurcharan Das, who mentions that the East India Railway Company was one of the first to get going and that the Great Indian Peninsula Railway “constructed a second line” for 35 miles from Bombay to Kalyan. The fact is that though the East India Railway Company was the first one to be formed, the Bombay line was the first official line to open, as the inauguration of the East India Railway got delayed because the ship carrying its locomotives and wagons sank. The main book, however, has no such errors.
 
This book is divided into five chapters, from 1830s to the 20th century, and rightly mentions that the first railway in India started in the 1830s at a small place near Madras. The flow of the book is chronological, beginning with the inception of the first lines in the country and the stray ideas before that period, supported with old maps, photographs and archival news reports, though there is a small mix-up between 1853 and 1953 on pages 4 and 5.
 
While the book has liberally used information from the Indian Railway Fans Club Association’s webpages and several reference books, it also presents a good amount of original data and research from the railway archives and unseen documents. The outstanding part of the research material is the discovery of correspondence between ‘P’ and ‘C’, sometime in 1857, from the railway archives, on the issue of railways versus irrigation. Neither ‘P’ nor ‘C’ revealed who they were; all that we know is that ‘P’ was in favour of the railways and ‘C’ argued against them. An interesting quote from ‘C’s letter, pronouncing railways a failure reads: “The Railway cannot supersede the road in everything; not only so but if it cannot convey everything much cheaper than could be done by the road it must be pronounced a failure.”
 
Interestingly, the book does not just talk about history and statistics, but gives an interesting account and stories from the past, including the entire gripping case history of the 1921 GIP Railway Murder Case and about crime on trains, with a historical perspective, presenting a table of secret lingo of the professional thief. It also goes on to tell you the story of the railway police and the police commission.
 
Another asset of the book is that it has a comprehensive list of the narrow and metre-gauge rail lines, with photographs. The book details the history and perspective of how the railways’ finances were separated, leading to an independent Railway Budget in the 1920s, until it ended this year. Dr Debroy corrects the media’s conclusion that there will be no Railway Budget. “Every organisation has a budget and so will the Indian Railways. What will be different is that a railway minister will no longer present this Budget in Parliament through a speech. The separate presentation will not be required legally and constitutionally,” he explains. 
 
Further, a comprehensive table of evolution of policies and committees on the Railways between 1850s and 1947 shows how railway tracks have changed since inception and how they were when India became independent. The book ends at 15 August 1947. 
 
This book is not a feast but a brunch and will be liked by everyone. 
 
(The author is a journalist, author and railway historian with a passion for the history of Indian Railways)

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