On Camel Back
The natural resources required for Kharad Craft are wool and vegetable colors. Kachchh had a robust tradition of animal husbandry. The pastoral communities maintained large herds of camels and livestock like goats, sheep etc. Originally Kharad carpets were made from goat and camel hair wool. The Maldharis and Rabaris ( pastoral communities ) shear the hair from camels and goats. This was then given to the hand-spinners who specialized in making wool out of goat and camel hair. This wool was then used by the Kharad artisans. The Kharad artisans produced Kharad (used for spreading on the floor), Khurjani (used to keep on the back of a camel to carry heavy items), Rasa (thick cloth used to cover grains). They used to roam the villages of Banni, Pancham and Sindh for selling their products. The village/town called Mugdan at the Indo-Pak border had regular customers of Kharad and Khurjani. Products such as Khurjani were popular in Sindh where these items sold easily as many people owned camels there.
The Kharad adorned many palaces in Sindh and Gujarat. The Kings and the ministers were regular patrons of Kharad given their very distinctive look, strength and longevity of Kharad. A kharad can easily last up to 100 years.
A Diminishing Craft
Kharad weaving at Kukma | Kharad carpet
Presently the Kharad craft is a diminishing craft. Out of the 10 families practicing this craft until the 1990s, there are only two left. All others have shifted to other livelihood options. These 2 artisan families are also finding it hard to get regular orders. .
The reasons are many. The local linkages have completely broken. Local communities no more buy Kharad products. And after the partition, the artisans lost the highly lucrative Sindh market. The value chain of Maldharis’ giving wool to spinners, the han-spinning of wool and the Kharad artisans using the wool for the production has broken down.The hand spinning of camel and goat hair into wool has become extinct today in Kachchh.
Today, the Kharad artisans are dependent on external markets both for buying the wool and selling their produce. The Kharad artisans buy wool from Rajasthan. With no proper means and resources, the Kharad artisans are not able to reach the right market segment who can appreciate the work involved and are willing to pay the premium.
The Kharad artisans feel that if the customer can be educated on the Kharad process(only 3-5 Kharad pieces can be made in a month) and the longevity of the carpets (the ones made from hand-spun wool will last more than 100 years) the market for them can expand and more artisans who have left the craft will come back.
Sharing the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Khamir is facilitating market linkages to connect the artisans to various entrepreneurs. A Finnish based organization, Tikau, buys Kharad regularly from Khamir. Khamir promotes the products at different exhibitions.
Apart from the facilitation, Khamir has begun the process to recreate the value chain that existed in the earlier times. Khamir is partnering with Sahjeevan for their project “Mobilizing Kachchhi Camel Breeders towards Organizing Structure in Kachchh District”. As part of the project, Khamir will create a new end-to-end local value chain by collecting the camel hair, giving it to hand spinners to make yarn out of camel hair. The hand spun yarn will then be available for Kharad weavers. The aim is to re-create the traditional eco-system conserving the locally available natural resources and bringing back the control over their value chain.