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�Sitalpati� makers rue lack of markets, seek govt help

By Roop Choudhury

GOALPARA, June 19 - �Sitalpati� is a handcrafted mat used as bed spread or sitting mat. It is a traditional family-based work made from strips of green cane known as �murta cane�. It is a form of an informal cottage industry and Dubapara in Goalpara area, a small artisan village under Matia revenue circle, 13 km away from Goalpara district headquarter, is the lone centre of the industry in the district. Nowadays, mats from this place no longer enjoy the popularity which they once commanded in the market. There has been a gradual decline in the number of people engaged in the activity due to a diminished market and also due to replacement by substitute materials made from plastic and other materials. The consumption patterns of people have also changed and so these handcrafted mats are facing acute marketing problems.

Talking to this correspondent, Ajay Pal (28) from Dubapara, an artisan engaged in the weaving of �Sitalpati� said that all his adult family members are engaged in it, but due to lack of sufficient earnings, they are leading a pitiable life. Pal said that his family of four earns an amount between Rs 4000 to Rs 6000 per month by selling these mats. He also informed that prices depend on the dimension as well as the quality of the mats. The mats are available in sizes of 4 x 5 1/2 feet, 5 x 6 feet and 6 x 7 feet while their quality depends on the glossiness, fineness and smoothness of the texture of the mat. These fetch around Rs 550 for a mat with dimensions of 4 x 5 1/2 feet at wholesale prices and around Rs 600 in the retail market.

Pal said that the demand for cool mats is during the summer season starting from the month of March till September and even though there is no shortage of labour and skilled workers, the craft is gradually dying, and many artisans have already drifted away from their traditional occupation to other jobs in order to earn their livelihood. Pal, who has erected a stall in front of their house along the Dubapara-Mornoi road said that the local demand for mats is limited. It takes two days to weave a mat, but the artisans are not in a position to cover their increasing overhead costs as they do not have a platform to interact with buyers directly and instead have to depend on middlemen from Barpeta and Lakhipur for marketing their products.

Pal further informed that a mat of average dimension requires a bundle of murta cane costing around Rs 200 purchased from the locally grown fields in the nearby marshy lands. He said that long back they were trained in new designing concepts and had also received a sewing machine for diversifying their products. However, the demand for innovative products such as handbags, mats, coasters etc., have dwindled.

Some artisans revealed that they are in a poor economic condition as their handcrafted mats do not fetch remunerative prices in the market and their shifting to other activities such as fishing, pottery, gate/grill manufacturing, daily labour and odd office work is due to erosion in their livelihood.

They also said that they definitely require the government�s attention and intervention to utilise appropriate technology to work in a cost-effective manner. Such intervention will not only diversify their products but also assist them in boosting their economy as well their living conditions and help in survival of the traditional craft. They also said that they are not getting the expected benefits by practising the laborious craft due to lack of an organised local market for their products.

The artisans of Dubapara also rued the fact that their products have not been able to achieve a competitive edge due to lack of technology. They also said that institutional credit flow is very poor, and that they want branding of their products to gain recognition at the national and international levels and enough opportunities to participate in exhibitions and fairs to showcase their products.

On the other hand, social activist Noni Das said that the government is required to play a proactive role and focus on the sitalpati artisans seriously in a bid to the promote and popularise the industry with the objective of changing the lives of these poor weavers.

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