Rohilla Mohalla : A Social Design Project

Understanding Rampur - One of India's 725 District Headquarter Towns

Project Objective

The Rohilla Mohalla project started in the year 2012, is named after the Rohilla Pathans from the Roh or mountain regions of Afghanistan who settled in the present Rampur district and its surroundings, defining its unique culture. Under the Rohilla-Mohalla Project, a detailed culture-nature study was undertaken of the district based on Patrick Geddes’s triad of “Work, Place and Folk”. This entailed the regional study of the population structure, education, livelihood and employment patterns, social and economic opportunities and challenges, rural-urban divide, topography, flora, fauna and climate. More than three quarters of the population was found to be engaged in the informal handicrafts sector, the traditional crafts being violin making, wooden furniture manufacture, paper kite production, zari-zardozi and appliqué embroidery. The project intervention took shape with the setting up of the Rohilla Mohalla crafts’ training centre to provide product design, management, working capital and market linkage support to master craftisans and entrepreneurs engaged in the traditional crafts of Rampur.

Under the Rampur Rohilla Mohalla Project, the design support to the Rampur artisans was driven by Geddes’s transdisciplinary perspective to engage the hands, heart, and mind of the artisans towards how their livelihood fitted into the overall adaptive and integrative process that joined local culture to local nature, towards grounding the artisan to “place”, and towards building communities and ensuring sustained livelihoods.

Artisans were introduced to modern concepts of Social design – on how to enhance their artistic capabilities, improve their well being and bring about social change through the design process. The aim is to support artisans engaged in the formal and informal employment sector or who may be marginalized, move from crafts to business by producing products that would be profitable in the domestic and international market. The two poles: tradition and the market economy can, in one of the models for social design work together rather than in competition with each other.

Artisans were introduced to the concept of Ecological Design i.e design as a bridge between human needs, culture and ecology by inspiring artisans to think about their Supply-Chain and map local resources (people & material) with production.

The design intervention approach at the Rohilla Mohalla Project is inspired by Bruno Munari who writes in Design as Art “A Designer is a Planner with an Artistic Sense - When the objects we use every day and the surrounding we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.”

The project connected urban educated designers with traditional craftsmen to bridge the gap between understanding of buyer needs & aesthetics (Rural-Urban divide) and think more about product utility for the urban consumer both in India and abroad over and above product aesthetics.

Towards this goal, the Design team carefully selected each Master-theme for the hand crafted products. Thereafter, the designers were encouraged to think through all aspects of design (visual design, industrial design, graphic design and research design) and the origin of each of the master-stories & its roots in antiquity – Madhubani, Gond, Banarasi, Bengal School, Celtic/Gothic, Arab/Persian, Chinese, Modern/Pop/Comic, Aztec/Inca, African , Greek/Roman etc. for context-setting so that every design collection refered to a particular “art style “.

Only after visualizing design, the designer selected the functional home/work/décor products to place his/her design on. The emphasis was on selecting mainly functional home products (80%) rather than decorative / workplace items (20%).

Some designs & products are more suitable for one craft media & some for the other eg. – textile, wood, glass, bamboo/cane, metal, wax, paper, stones (fossils & minerals). While selecting suitable material, the cost & proximity of availability of material, to the artisans village/cluster, was considered.

It is important that the theme reflects in the packaging & the product information notes and the designers were encouraged to document (photo and text) any interesting facts he/she discovers, along the design journey about the art/craft & its history, the village, the village artisan, our training experience etc.

Handcrafted products across the following themes were manufactured by the artisans of Rampur under the Rohilla Mohalla Project:

  • Piet Mondrian and De Stijl
  • Sufism
  • Animal Fables
  • Rampur – Awadh
  • Golden Triangle

The Mondrain Theme helped the artisans think global and act local by introducing them to the concept of Functionalism and the Bauhaus school’s methodology of integration of industrial production methods with handicraft using different raw materials.

The Animal Fables theme helped establish the interconnectedness of cultures globally and demonstrate the importance of the ancient manuscripts and illustrations which are housed in the Rampur Raza Library in perhaps inspiring stories to teach morals and values across other cultures.

In keeping with Geddes’s bioregional focus, the Sufi and Rampur-Awadh product themes represent the physical expression of the culture of Rampur in the form of material designs.

The products in the Golden Triangle and Rampur Awadh themes, emphasised the importance of design thinking for District Social-Economic Planning by creating meaningful product designs for both the Indian citizen & foreign tourists’ needs.

The Rohilla Mohalla Project has undertaken Supply-Chain & Cluster Impact Studies across U.P. – Glass Making ( Firozabad), Wooden Furniture ( Pilukhwa, Rampur & Sahranpur), Cane Furniture & Décor ( Bareilly & Rampur), Perfumes ( Kannauj), Embroidery (Lucknow, Rampur, Varanasi etc.), Kites – paper & threads ( Bareilly & Rampur) , Leather ( Lucknow), Stone-Marble Inlay ( Agra) etc.

Other State Cluster & Craft Studies have been undertaken in Rajasthan, Haryana, M.P., Bihar etc. Other Country Craft Studies have been undertaken in Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Czech Rep, UK, Germany, Austria, Slovak Rep etc.

What we do NOT do – Build our own “Indoeuropeans” brand – We help build other brands of micro-entities we support eg. – Asif Mian Kite Makers, Iqbal Fashions Pvt Ltd, Mubashir International Fashions etc.