A helpline for artisans has been launched by Okhai, established by Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) to encourage and empower women in rural areas. The initiative is in line with this year’s theme, ‘Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19’ – aimed at creating awareness about their struggles and needs and the critical role they play in society.

The helpline number will enable these artisans to call and register their concerns. They can also catalogue details of the products they create, their geographical location, and the number of artisans in their group, that will facilitate access to newer markets and amplify their visibility in the handicraft industry. Okhai’s main objective for launching this helpline is to reach out to the tribal and rural artisans in India. It will also explore collaborating and partnering with organisations and government bodies working in rural areas with local artisans.

In response to CB’s questions, Kirti Poonia, Head – Okhai, informs that the helpline will allow artisans to catalogue their products through WhatsApp, and this will also enable them to sell their products online. The organisation will assist them in launching handicrafts on different websites and also share their products with Okhai’s competitors such as Jaypore and Gatha. A group has been created to provide them help from all possible avenues. To ensure maximum benefits to the artisans, support for grievances will be provided in collaboration with Creative Dignity, a group of volunteers supporting the crafts industry through the pandemic.

The helpline will be active and available for artisans everyday between 10 am and 6 pm. Okhai will be leveraging local newspapers and regional language channels as well as a network of NGOs to help it connect with artisans and promote this facility to them. According to the organisation, the pandemic has deeply impacted rural India and its artisans who, before the crisis, would earn a daily income from supplying to retail stores.

In a press release shared with CB, Kirti Poonia states: ‘Handicrafts is the second largest income-generating industry in the country today after agriculture but it has not been immune to the effects of this global pandemic. The helpline is born out of Okhai’s desire to create a solution to this challenge and safeguard the talented and skilled artisans in all forms of art. The helpline number – 6359 021 888 – will also be registered on WhatsApp for easy access. While Okhai has scaled up during the pandemic from representing 2,300 artisans in March to 16,000 artisans in October, this helpline will provide assistance to artisans in the farthest regions of the country.’