The Small Yet Undeniable Legacy Of Kusum, A Fair Trade Artisan

My first visit outside Delhi as my AIF Clinton Fellowship began, was to Pushpanjali Fair Trade in Agra. I remember being extremely nervous yet very excited at the same time. Pushpanjali Fair Trade was founded in 1982 by Mr. S.C. Mittal.

Mr. S.C. Mittal on the streets of Agra around his ancestral home.

Mr. Mittal born and brought up in Agra, was surrounded by families of artisans during his entire childhood. The majority of his friend circle were kids of stone craftsmen and other art forms. He knew these families personally and had an early realization of their hardships. He always knew that his interest was inclined towards doing something for the artisan community.

Mr. Shahid Mohammad, inlay artist showing their craft product after making to Mr. Mathew (Left) Head of OXFAM Bridge Office and Mr. S.C. Mittal (Right) in early 80s

Soon after his education, along with like-minded people, he decided to start something of his own. Through Pushpanjali, he aimed to provide good working conditions, create job opportunities, and provide financial support to the artisan community.

I was welcomed by the team of Pushapanjali on Monday afternoon on 5th January 2019. Their broad smiles and warm nature made me feel comfortable immediately. I was quite surprised by the scale of their work.

The Team of Pushpanjali fair Trade, Agra.

The campus was huge and the artisans were all working on different forms of art at the same time. I was introduced to all the artisans and the team members. Pushpanjali has ventured in various products of home decor, kitchen wear, and fashion accessories.

Post lunch I got the opportunity to meet Kusum, one of the artisans working with Pushpanjali for the past three years. She stays an hour away from Pushpanjali in a joint family along with her two kids and husband. Her husband is her biggest support. He has always encouraged her to do whatever she wants to. Kusum does all kinds of small tasks as an artisan in Pushpanjali.

From making tassels to cutting extra threads and ironing cloth material. Her contribution in the chain of the product making is integral. She is an inspiration to many women in her community and for myself. She has encouraged women of her community and formed a small group that works on weekends from home. I was lucky enough to visit them at her home in Agra. The architecture of her home was old and was aesthetically so beautiful. It was built by her father-in-law.

Kusum entering the premises of her home in Agra.

I was happy to finally meet her husband. He specially waited back to help her welcome us at their home. Once all her friends gathered, they started with their work of making bead garlands and tassels. It felt great to see their enthusiasm and team work. They worked with utmost concentration but also had fun. They had conversations about their kids, their own lives, Prime Minister Modi’s visit in that week, and what were they planning to cook for dinner.

Kusum with her friends in the courtyard of her home in Agra.

In that moment, while I was capturing them through my lens, I could see the sheer passion that Kusum had for her work. She definitely was a strong multi-tasker. In the middle of all this, she also made ginger tea for all of us. Shortly after, her kids arrived home. I could see her eyes light up; she immediately left all her work and addressed them. She was switching her personality so easily. She showed me her home premises proudly. My favorite part of her home was the rooftop. We both sat there and chatted for more than an hour. She spoke to me like her own daughter and narrated me her story of life. Her vulnerability in that moment astonished me but at the same time comforted me. Women like Kusum are today’s role models.

Kusum making tea for everyone in her kitchen in Agra.

Pushapanjali has given platform to many artisans like Kusum. When she had joined Pushpanjali, she came in with the drive to work. Pushpanjali after seeing the spark in her decided to give her a chance and took the responsibility to give her skills training according to the projects that flowed in. Kusum’s positive attitude and wish to keep learning really helped her. She says her earnings give her a sense of pride. Today she is capable of contributing financially for the family.

That day I saw a different part of fair trade and artisans’ community. An artisan like Kusum doesn’t posses one particular skill of art form but is an integral part of making a product. At night while returning I wondered there might be so many like Kusum who are capable of doing wonders only if they get that chance and platform like Kusum did through Fair Trade.

Kusum with her husband and kids on the rooftop at her home in Agra.

References:

  1. https://www.pushpanjali.in/ 
  2.  http://www.fairtradeforum.org/fair-trade/

Filmmaker and visual artist Shivani was born in the small town of Nasik in Maharashtra and is currently based in Mumbai. Shivani’s work includes stories that lend themselves to a philosophical exploration on the human condition. During the third year of her study in B.Sc. Filmmaking specialized in Direction from Whistling Woods International, she directed her diploma short film “DOPDI,” an adaptation of Mahashweta Devi’s Draupadi. A story about a tribal woman, driven by oppression who finds herself surrounded by darkness after liberation. Her film was short-listed as one of the finalists for the 2018 Ca’ Foscari International Short Film Festival in Venice and was screened at the festival in San Servolo. Shivani recently worked as an assistant director on a Marathi feature film “Bogda,” story about a dysfunctional mother daughter relationship. Before graduating, Shivani had also started her Friends of Prajwala group, inspired by the social activist and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Prajwala Sunitha Krishnan’s work towards sex trafficking. Shivani along with her team conducted seminars to raise awareness across schools and colleges. Second to filmmaking, she enjoys travelling, photography and making journals. Working as a Clinton fellow with Fair Trade Forum India, she hopes to take the best of both worlds, artistic inspiration and a purpose by helping the artisan community.

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