Indian Festivals and the Rural Economy

By Yash Garg, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and Medha Arora, Miranda House

Sundry India has a lot to take pride in, and the country’s diverse festivals are undoubtedly a colourful feather in the cap! For some, they represent a strong sense of religious belief, culture and tradition; for some, it’s about a sense of community, family and kinship; perhaps for some, it’s about celebration and appreciation. But for a large number of people, it’s also about livelihood and sustenance. From artisans like diya-makers, idol-makers and potters to flower sellers and halwais(confectioners), festivals signify employment opportunities and increased income, boosting the overall rural economy.

The Indian rural economy is envisioned as the backbone and as a saviour of sorts, especially in times of economic crises. It is, after all, a massive contributor to the country’s national income, even while agriculture is no longer a dominant component. The artisan industry, however, is the second largest employer in developing nations after agriculture and employs women in large numbers. The Handicrafts Board of India in an assessment stated that since it is an unorganised sector, artisans face challenges such as low capital, poor exposure to new technologies, absence of market intelligence, and, most importantly, poor institutional framework. Naturally, they heavily rely on the festival season, when consumer sentiment, coupled with religious beliefs, growing appreciation for aesthetics and the essence of auspiciousness and prosperity urges people to spend more. Their earnings exponentially increase during major festival seasons like Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali, changing their economic stature. In addition, the youth of India are now using and promoting sustainable products made mostly in India, which directly impacts the unorganized sector.

An increasing demand and dependence

Along with major festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali and Durga Puja, faith-centric festivals, and harvest festivals, like Onam and Makar Sankranti, to name a few, all demand a wide variety of goods and services, which is ever-increasing. With the exception of this year, rising purchasing power and substantial changes in transport and communication have helped in matching the supply to the demand. Rural entrepreneurs have now gone beyond the traditional carpenter, potter and blacksmith domain and evolved into a larger framework inclusive of modern technology and added a new class of photographer, public sound and music purveyor, decorator, event manager, sweet maker, fruit and flower seller and so on. Festivals have thus emerged as a diverse source of enterprise and income.

Festival seasons also see a growth in rural tourism. For instance, there are eight leading Ganesh temples in Maharashtra, all located near the city of Pune. With increasing population, faith and devotion to Lord Ganesha, the number of people visiting these places has risen. This new and temporary influx of people has led to the creation of several boarding and lodging facilities in the remote interior villages of Maharashtra. Even the state government has been investing in the development of these villages by developing infrastructure like roads, sanitation and other facilities required by devotees visiting these holy places. The expansion of rural tourism in West Bengal during Durga Puja season for an authentic experience is another such example.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the above sectors have taken a hit. But on the bright side, e-commerce platforms have expanded their reach and now cover smaller towns and cities.

E-commerce expansion for artisans and local businesses

With calls of atmanirbharta (self-reliance) and government schemes such as ‘One District One product’, UP artisans have been encouraged to move sales online, which has hugely benefited them and boosted sales and income which they would have lost otherwise. Navneet Sehgal, additional chief secretary, MSME and export promotion, khadi and village industries and I&PR says, “The objective to onboard ODOP artisans and units to online platforms is so that they can showcase and sell their products to consumers both nationally and globally. The first MOU that the ODOP Cell signed was with and since then, we are working together to create awareness about the benefits of showcasing and selling products through e-commerce portal and onboarding process.” He added, “Online sales have been a huge support for the artisans, in these difficult times.”

Uthhan, founded in 2012, is an online platform that allows tribal artisans to market and sell their products. Today the platform hosts over 15,000 products created by more than 3,000 tribal artisans and is helping generate regular income to 1,000 artisans, while eliminating middlemen. Similarly, Mumbai-based Megastores is an online marketplace for artisans that ensures a fair price to them, provides free product cataloguing and workshops to help with their digital and technological skills. 

Crafts made out of coconut shells, sold on Uthhan. Source

Supply chains in India are predominantly exploitative with middlemen seizing most of the profits. Local and tribal artisans have been wary of shifting their products online, fearing predatory pricing and further exploitation due to lack of technological know-how. But the dire conditions of the pandemic and platforms such as Uthhan and Megastores have pushed them and given them that valuable space. Further, surveys and the ‘Vocal for Local’ movement have established that people are more than willing to support local arts and crafts, confectionery and various other items if they were made more accessible on an online platform. 

Festivals and ‘Vocal for Local’ movement

Now let us address one of the cliches: ‘This Diwali, Go Local’ and ‘This Ganesh Chaturthi, Go local’. Although they may sound good in principle with no practical output, it is quite the contrary in this current festival season. Buying local is not just about unfounded patriotism as some would like to believe, but about a unique Indian aesthetic that characterises the festival; and more and more people are certainly sharing this sentiment in the coming age. According to a survey that received almost three lakh responses, about 80 percent of the people are willing to buy from MSMEs, small businesses, emerging brands, weavers and artisans.

The online community, from stars to influencers and the youth, also been quite vocal(in their own ways) with hashtags like #handmade, #vocalforlocal, #giftideas and #onlineshopping emerging as the top trending hashtags, encouraging people which has helped in supporting the local economy.

Not only is the support for the local economy being voiced by the netizens but also being promoted by the big companies, seeming to be a key theme this festive season with digital platforms campaigning for supporting small businesses. In its “Great Indian Sellers” campaign, Amazon India featured a variety of sellers from across the country selling saris, brass plates, decorative lights and sweets during the festive season. It has been urging customers to buy from local sellers and support them. Manish Tiwary, vice-president, Amazon India, said that this year the company’s focus remains helping sellers as they get back on their feet. “These include more than 650,000 sellers and SMBs, including artisans, women entrepreneurs, emerging Indian brands and local store owners…”. This campaign has not only allowed consumers to purchase local goods but also provided a platform for locals to sell their festival – centred products during the season.

Cadbury Celebrations, one of the Diwali festival hallmarks with their sweets and chocolates gifted to friends and colleagues, are providing an advertising platform to local retailers, whose businesses would have been impacted by the pandemic. They have been running ‘Not Just A Cadbury Ad’ which highlights the spirit of generosity. The ad beautifully captures a family celebrating Diwali’s occasion where the woman of the house gifts something to every member of the family bought from a local store. It ends on a celebratory note urging people to support local stores and add sweetness to everyone’s Diwali this year. 

Environment sustainability awareness – a major booster

In this modern era of technology, the youth are getting more and more environmentally conscious, wanting to do their part in conserving nature during the festive season and spreading this message with green gifts and sustainable celebrations. They have stopped buying plastic decorative items, non-biodegradable gifts, crackers, etc. They have started purchasing sensible environment-friendly products like handmade lamps and decorations, designer jewellery made of clay, and buying ‘sow-and-grow’ statues. Plants have become the new ‘flowers’ and green is the new gold with bamboo speakers, organic seeds and nuts, gardening hampers, to name a few, have found their way into people’s shopping list. This drive towards sustainable environment-friendly products has been one of the factors for purchase from local artisans who can now cater to a market with huge demand for their products and at times find consumers who are also willing to pay a premium to get an exotic sustainable product from them.

In line with the movement, woman artisans from all over the country have been making eco-friendly diyas and lanterns, showcasing their exquisite craftsmanship. Woman from Bhopal, self-help groups in Raipur, Agartala and other places have taken the spirit of eco-friendliness and self-reliance very seriously, and have been using dung, vermicompost and other waste and recyclable materials this Diwali, 

ANI: Madhya Pradesh: Women of a self-help group in Bhopal are making low-cost & eco-friendly earthen lamps (diyas) from cow dung ahead of #Diwali. “We wanted to become #AatmaNirbhar following PM Modi’s appeal. So we started making low-cost cow dung diyas for everyone,” says a woman.




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