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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Sandur Kushala Kala Kendra (SKKK)

Sitting in an internet cafe in grey wet Ahmedabad we found SKKK via the Dastkar organisation's website. It sounded really interesting and was very close to Hampi (a very recomended stop to anyone), so we got in contact and a week later we were travelling at 10 kmph through a very dusty mining landscape on the world's bumpiest local bus.

The road to Sandur. Photo by Soumyajit Nandy

SMIORE, a mining company, owned by a member of the local royal famil, set up SKKK. It started with 12 local Lambani women who were brought together to work as a group in 1984, it's main aim was to give the local people economic independence and preserve local craft and tradition. Starting with Lambani embroidery it soon included Khandi (handweaving), cane furniture making and wood and stone carving.
A community centre was built to house SKKK and to act as a central hub for both the craftspeople and the rest of the local area, it is often used by the schools and to host weddings! SMIORE financed the organisation and supported its infrastructure and marketing until it was able to become independent, around 500 artisans work with SKKK and it has helped 20 self-help groups to become active. However, many craftspeople are turning to the rapidly growing mining industry and SKKK are losing members.
The community centre's garden

In 1930 Gandhi described the area as an oasis due to its lush vegetation and array of wildlife, it is a small town set between hills and surrounded by natural gorges. The earth is rich in iron and magnanese ore which attracted the mining industry and today, much of  the beautiful landscape has been transformed by the mining (legal and illegal) and the roads destroyed. SKKK's members live in many villages in the surrounding area of up to 35km away which can take up to 3 hours to reach on these roads!

Lambani women in traditional dress

The Lambani people (sometimes referred to as Banjaras) are descendants of a normadic tribe originating in Europe who travelled through Asia and Afghanistan before reaching northern India. Settling in the deserts of Rajastan they are most often found in the north but have travelled across India.
Due to their nomadic lifestyle they had few possessions and instead wore their wealth, creating heavily embroidered clothing embellished with shells, trims, mirrors and tassels and elaborate silver jewellery. SKKK have developed the traditional stitches to to make products sold to both the local and western market, mainly for home furnishings.
They currently give regular work to over 100  women on a piece work basis, earnings are fixed each month to give a steady income and the payment is divided between cash and food rations.

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