Rohilla Mohalla : A Social Design Project

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


With respect to the main objective of the Rohilla Mohalla Project of providing livelihood support in the non farm sector to handicraft artisans of Rampur engaged in the traditional crafts of applique embroidery, zari-zardozi embroidery, furniture manufacture, violin making and kite manufacture.

Textiles: Applique Embroidery

Almost all the women have learnt appliqué embroidery from their mothers and it is usual for them to embellish garments and home textiles with floral patterns using this skill. Applique has been a source of livelihood for numerous women across the district with aggregators from the city giving embroidery orders to them in their homes across the district and taking back the finished goods to retailers. The appliqué embroiderers fall entirely in the informal sector, characterised by distributed manufacturing and the embroiderers are paid per piece upon completion.

The key learnings for the Rohilla Mohalla project were:

  • Product Diversification: Moving away from production of ready-made garments to home textiles made with different types of fabric would help tide over competition and help cope with the seasonal nature of the garments business.
  • Market Linkages: Institutionalizing Sales & Collection processes in main markets of India is necessary.
  • Working capital finance for high-value & big orders.
  • Investment in new technology for design transfer from tracing paper onto cloth with the potential of size adjustment to ensure accuracy and consistency is high volume production.
  • Improving the technical skill of the women workforce in this area would help increase their wages and well being.
  • There was negligible NGO presence in area and rare attempts had been made at “Self Help Groups.”
  • Design intervention had been completely absent.
  • Management Concepts Training to educate the established craftspersons ready for entrepreneurship about the benefits of teamwork & cooperation and to enhance their understanding of labour laws & setting up a factory establishment.
  • Reorganise manufacturing: The future would be to create formal jobs in this sector through Cooperatives, Producer Companies, Export Houses & Factories.

Textiles: Zari-Zardozi

The Zari-Zardozi sector is the largest employer in the Rampur District with approx. 700,000 embroidery workers between Rampur & Bareilly districts. The workers fall entirely in the informal sector and the sector is characterised by distributed manufacturing. A largely male work-force operates in teams of 3 to 12 at informal karkhana (factory) rooms in residential homes. Only excess work flows to women, who strictly operate from their homes. 95% of the workers are on dehadi (daily wages) and are paid weekly, every Thursday evening (approx Rs 80 to Rs 120, per day/ Master-craftsmen @ Rs 200).

The Key Products being manufactured are Wedding Sarees & Lehengas @ Rs 3000, (wholesale price) with the industry being characterised by seasonality: 7 out of the 12 months in an year are busy during the pre-wedding season traditionally.

In terms of the raw material required, the Net Cloth on which embroidery is done is almost entirely produced by Surat Mills, Gujarat and the other major component – the Cut-Dana or Glass Beads used for embroidery are in 95% of the cases imports from China. The daily Cut-Dana consumption in the karkhanas between Rampur and Bareilly could be valued at Rs 7 crore+. The Firozabad Cut-Dana Production, 2 hrs away in UP, proves more expensive as a source of raw material due to Gas/Energy & Silicon raw material prices. This factor could potentially put the livelihood of the approx. 1 mn glass industry workers of Firozabad at risk!

In the existing work structure, around 28% of the final Zardozi product cost is the cost of the raw material, and the artisan wages forms upto 19%. Depending upon the intensity of artistic/manual work required the labor cost might vary from 20 to 40%. The contactors and manufacturer’s margins vary from 15 to 35%. Higher sales volume doesn’t necessarily impact “Dehadi” and the “machine” in terms of the Glass Bead/ Net Cloth seems to earn as much or little more than the “hand-work” on every product made.

There is negligible NGO presence in the area unlike in the states of Punjab and Rajasthan, and there have been rare attempts at “Self Help Groups”. There is big child labour involvement, the workers are usually in the 12 to 45 years age group with eyesight issues developing after the age of 40

The key learning were:

  • Focus on Non-Garment product development to tide over the seasonal demand pattern of the traditional saree – lehenga manufacturing.
  • To Institutionalize Sales & Collection processes in main markets of Delhi & Jaipur
  • In terms of market linkages, we found that Khadi & Government Retail outlets do not offer favourable credit terms & high sales, and crafts’ fairs and haats offer few opportunities for participation and those too only to the aggregators.
  • Technology Training in Machine Zari techniques, Hand vs Machine output comparison ( Products & Economics); Introduce Mechanization in everyday Embroidery
  • Technology for Design transfer : Size & Print adjustment for tracing paper prints
  • Train for Entrepreneurship: Management skills, Labour laws & Factory set-up, New Markets , Competitive pricing vis-à-vis Machine Zari products
  • Industry Linkages: Glass, Net Cloth Production & Zari embroidery cooperation benefits
  • Working capital finance for high-value & big orders to eliminate the dependence of the craftspersons on informal money lenders / committees that they had been accustomed to.
  • Provide Workers stable 12 month work , Wage Assurance, Work location proximity and medical check ups.

Wooden Furniture Making

With increasing popularity of knock-down and modular furniture, the traditional furniture and wooden carving specialists were diminishing and the younger generation is losing interest in the craft.

The key learnings were:

  • Initial Design intervention
  • Manage skill training by the master craftsman of apprentices keen on setting up their own modern furniture workshops or karkhanas as a source of livelihood.
  • Training apprentices on basic management and entrepreneurship theory and practice.
  • Help apprentices identify the right sources in the structured financial services sector for initial investment and ongoing working capital assistance.
  • Establish market linkages for them outside Rampur with furniture designers and manufacturers.
  • Explore direct selling through digital platforms.

The Art and Science of Violin Making

Across the world, manufacturing a hand-made violin is considered to be one of the highest forms of craft. In India, this highly coveted and rare craft of violin making exists only amongst a handful of craftsmen in Rampur and Kolkata, a tradition that began during the British era.

Manufacturing a hand-made violin requires significantly higher investment in comparison to the other handcraft businesses of Rampur, and even a small error in the manufacturing process could prove quite expensive. The raw material cost is high as the Rampur violins are made primarily with the fine Brazilian maple wood. Spruce wood of Himachal Pradesh is used for the top of the instrument and heavy ebony wood is used in other sections of the instrument. The wholesale price of violins made in Rampur varies between Rs 5000 - Rs 15,000.

Due to the high manufacturing cost and rarity of the skill, violin manufacture in Rampur district, since the beginning, has been concentrated in the hands of 1-2 mid-sized companies such as New Slovakia Musical Ltd located in Puraniganj, Rampur. Machine made Chinese violins, which are priced lower, are less durable and do not necessarily sound better, offer a fair amount of competition, which the established violin makers of Rampur are able to face off reasonably well.

The key findings of the Rohilla Mohalla project were:

  • It was imperative to train freshers and add new apprentices in the violin manufacture industry of Rampur, to keep the craft thriving in the face of international competition from machine made violins of China and top of the line hand-made violins from the western world.
  • There already exists a steady demand across India, of the mid priced violins made in Rampur, and opportunities for sale exist in the international markets too, given the fine quality of Rampur violins.
  • The newly trained apprentices at the Rohilla Mohalla project were keen to create their own workshops in new locations, their primary concern being to seek financial support for their initial investment and working capital requirements. The artisans were assisted by the project in identifying the right sources to choose to take a loan from in the structured financial services sector instead of relying on informal money lenders / committees.
  • The Rohilla Mohalla project further analysed, that the existing larger violin workshops could further leverage their infrastructure and expertise in developing other string instruments such as Guitars, Ouds, Violas, and Chellos.

Kites : The Paper Kites of Rampur Soar High

The craft of paper kite making came to Rampur in the 1700s from Afghanistan, with the Rohilla Pathans, who had established this town. Like most other crafts, the skill was passed down from one generation to the next within the family such as in the family of Touseef Miyan, who has been part of the Rohilla Mohalla Project since its inception. His family has been making kites for the past 5 generations and have been participating in kite and craft festivals within India and abroad. Touseef’s grandfather Sahibzade Chanda Miyan won the President’s award in 1984 and his father Asif Miyan won a national award in 1990.

Handmade kites represent the perfect balance of strength and swiftness in flight and delicacy and lightness in their appearance and usage. Besides producing normal flying kites, by using their imagination and creativity, Touseef and his family have been manufacturing a vast range of decorative kites in different sizes, which are more popular outside Rampur . These kites incorporate a variety of colourful motifs including birds, fishes, animals, star or moon patterns. The designs are first drawn to scale on a paper, which is cut-out as a khancha or template, using which the desired colour of kite paper is cut and pasted onto the kite, using a home-made mixture of maida and neela tota, much like the applique technique on clothes.

The raw material for kite making, though a relatively small component of overall cost, is sourced entirely from outside of Rampur: the finest delicate paper coming from Gujarat, the strongest Manjha and Bamboo coming from Bareilly.

The more time consuming and intricate the design, the costlier the kite would be. Whereas a plain or normal kite would usually cost Rs 10-15, the designer kites are priced upward of Rs 200, with the price of highly intricate and rare pieces going upto Rs 2000. Clearly there is a huge price differential between the plain and the decorative kites.

The key learnings in the project were:

  • For ensuring stable growth of the kite manufacturing business, it would be beneficial to localize the raw material procurement (paper and thread) by setting up parallel businesses.
  • Focus on new paper products to include decorative paper lampshades, coasters and premium wrapping paper for instance.

Though the established kite makers of Rampur have benefitted from the steady clientele of retailers and craft fair organizers in the larger cities, paper product innovation with the kite making technique would be key to maintaining steady growth and popularity of products to ensure downstream effect to the workers in the industry and enhance skills.