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When the PM came Shopping!


By Pravir Krishna

Monday, 8 March, 2021, is a day Sarita Dhurvi can never forget in her life. This tribal artisan from an obscure village in Dindori district, Madhya Pradesh, might as well echo the words of famous English poet Lord Byron, “I woke up one morning and found myself famous!” Why? Although Sarita had been making Gond tribal paintings for years, and earning small change selling them to whoever cared to buy them, 8 March, was when no less than the Prime Minister of India checked in as her customer! Yes! Shri Narendra Modi, admired and actually bought a painting of hers to adorn the walls of the most prestigious office of the people of India! If you meet her in person, you can feel that this sudden glory from the blue is still sinking into her mind!

And so it was for two other tribal women, quite like Sarita: Monisha, a Toda weaver from Tamil Nadu, whose Poothukali shawl won the PM’s heart; and Rupali, a Santhal woman, whose hand-crafted file-folder made of Madhurkathi grass that grows in the 24 Pargana area of Bengal, impressed the PM as something truly ingenious, innovative and local! The PM promptly went vocal about them on Twitter and other media, causing wide ripples!

The lesson in the PM’s thoughtful act was clear: that there is a huge talent bank in the hinterland of India – the rural and, more particularly, the tribal lands. This India, these Indians, and their amazing products need to be given the market attention they deserve. Such attention is due not because the artisans belong to underprivileged tribes, but because their products are excellent by any standards. And, Trifed is enabling such market focus as a duty and a Constitutional obligation.

TRIFED, as the business arm of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, is mandated to address this obligation. To this end, Trifed has promoted Tribes India, a rapidly growing chain of 131 showrooms across India that market a full and wholesome range of products of tribal artisans. These products include fabrics, paintings, handicraft, forest-sourced food and health products, exotic jewellery, utility-products, and a host of gift items in a wide price-range. These showrooms are strategically located at airports, prime commercial districts in metros and large cities and other locations with high footfall of potential buyers. The website of Tribes India carries the complete list of outlets.

Trifed realised that shopping-culture is shifting from the showroom-mode to the online mode. To keep pace with this trend, Trifed has set up an e-portal, www.tribesindia.com. The object is to put tribal artisans and products on the platform of global e-market. The intent is to achieve several goals at once. The demand for the products will expand exponentially; the middleman and his share will accrue to the tribal artisan; the artisan will move on from distress-price to best price; and all these together will result in strengthening tribal livelihoods without removing them from their habitats. This implies tribal empowerment in the truest sense.

If the tribes turned underprivileged, a major reason for this was illiteracy. In today’s world, literacy has a new avtar: e-literacy, the ability to sell online. The amazing opportunity online commerce offers is to democratise peoples, cutting across nationality, gender, and geographical location. Internet has provided new avenues to market linkage. This has put Sarita in remote Dindori at par with a merchant in Mumbai. Both can connect with equal ease to a buyer, say, in New York. It would be a sin to deprive the tribal artisans and producers of the opportunity online commerce offers. Our intention, therefore, is to go vocal about the local and buy Tribal to make it global.

After he had done his shopping of tribal products online on the portal of Tribes India, the Prime Minister tweeted wonderful words of encouragement and shared his experience with his cabinet colleagues. Soon, we had celebrities visiting our portal and shopping. Whereas the portal earlier had a modest two thousand visitors a day, the number soared to over thirty thousand overnight. What the Prime Minister of India did is what Trifed would like to see every Chief Minister and every Corporate leader doing: shop from outlets and on e-com portal of Tribes India, and then encourage all to do likewise. We call on all Corporates for shopping for gifts, folders, fabrics, guided by a simple principle: Tribal India, first! Overnight, you can help us hugely expand our customer and market base. Tribes India is the one place where, when you shop, you do more than shopping; you discover a different, vibrant India and strengthen the livelihoods of thousands of Saritas, Monishas and Rupalis. This adds a new dimension to Corporate Social Responsibility. I am sure the captains of India Inc are listening.

(Pravir Krishna, IAS, is Managing Director of Trifed)