Crafting dignity for nation’s shoe artisans

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Crafting dignity for nation’s shoe artisans

Wednesday, 07 February 2024 | Sarita Brara

Crafting dignity for nation’s shoe artisans

The KVIC's initiative to train shoe artisans has not only equipped them with the skills but has bestowed upon them the dignity of labour

A signboard in the bustling Janpath market in Delhi reads, "Beauty parlour of shoes and chappals." Seated on the pavement beneath this poster is Boti Ram, known as 'the leather doctor,' donned in a coat and muffler on a chilly January day. The hoarding, adorned with the logo of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), states: "All kinds of footwear that seem to have lost their life and color are rejuvenated and beautified here."

Under the initiative of KVIC, Boti Ram and fellow footwear artisans underwent training in the art of revitalizing worn-out, dusty, or damaged shoes. This two-month training equipped these traditional artisans with the skills to craft shoes independently, covering the entire process from cutting and closing to bottom-making and finishing.

Boti Ram, originally from Khekre in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, arrived in Delhi in 1971, seeking employment. He initially learned the art of shoe repairing from a mentor he refers to as his Guru from Rajasthan. Thanks to the training and encouragement he received from KVIC at Gandhi Darshan in Raj Ghat, Boti Ram now earns between Rs 300 to Rs 1000 per day.

KVIC introduced the innovative program of footwear manufacturing and footwear repairing by traditional artisans in 2019-20 as a pilot project. Historically, footwear was crafted solely by artisans using manual tools. As shoes produced by the organized sector were attractive, durable, and cost-effective, many artisans were compelled to  pursue other professions. The objective was also to elevate this craft to a respectable profession, encouraging the unemployed to consider it as a livelihood option.

KVIC inaugurated the first-of-its-kind footwear training centre in Delhi to train the marginalized community in 2019-21. The initiative aimed to provide logistical support to trained artisans in establishing their shoe-making businesses after completing their training.

No fees were charged from the artisans for the training provided by the Agra-based Central Footwear Training Institute (CFTI), a unit of the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises. In fact, the trainees received a stipend of Rs 300 per day for 50 working days during their two-month training period. Upon completion, artisans were also equipped with tools and necessary items for their profession, including a tin box to carry their instruments. They received nearly 20 items, including scissors, ramps, leather hole pincers, tipahi (cobblers' tripod), hand-stitching needles, black and brown brushes, colours, wax, thread, and other essentials.

Over ninety artisans have been trained in the art of making and repairing shoes and chappals. Prior to the pilot project's commencement, awareness camps were organized in various parts of Delhi. "My earnings have definitely increased after receiving training from Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) in 2019," says Boti Ram.

Now Boti Ram has a lucrative corner in the busy Janpath, frequented by thousands of shoppers, including numerous foreigners, tourists, and other market visitors. KVIC officials mention that artisans like Boti Ram can obtain loans at subsidized interest rates under the Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP). Cobblers/footwear artisans are also covered under the PM Vishwakarma Yojana, which provides benefits, including a loan of up to 3 lakh at a 5% interest rate payable in four years. Other scheme benefits include skill upgrading, toolkit incentives, credit and marketing support, incentives for digital transactions, and recognition of PM Vishwakarma Certificate and ID Card. The training has not only given them the skill to earn their livelihood, tools, and financial assistance but, most importantly, it has bestowed shoe artisans like Boti Ram with the dignity of labour.

(The writer is a senior journalist. Views are personal. Charkha Features)

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