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This Rajni Kant has brought a GI revolution to handicrafts

By Binay Singh | Sep 14, 2022

Social Activist Has Got 24 GI Certificates From 14 States

On GI tagging, Rajni Kant is unrivalled, much like the actor Rajnikanth is on screen.

Kant’s persistence has won 24 products across 14 states Geographical Indication (GI) certificates, a global proof that they are unique representations of a specific culture, society or craft. For many artisans, these GI tags helped make a financial turnaround as what were perceived as dying crafts got a fresh lease of life.

One of the craftsmen to benefit from Kant’s endeavours is Sohit Prajapati, a master craftsman of Nizamabad black pottery, who gave up on the craft and migrated to Mumbai and sold bhelpuri. “After black pottery got the GI tag in 2015-16, our lives changed completely. We now get platforms for marketing. The craft, which was confined to just two families, today engages over 1,500 people,” Prajapati said.

The tag also earned Prajapati a trip to Geneva in 2015, where he displayed his work at the 55th General Assembly of the International Bureau of World Intellectual Property Organisation.

His craft is one of the oldest in Azamgarh district. During Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s reign, some clay potters from Kutch migrated to Azamgarh and settled at Nizamabad. They created black clay pottery. Kant is the general secretary of the Human Welfare Association (HWA).

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2019 for his contribution towards protecting and promoting traditional crafts and related products and linking these with sustainable livelihood and entrepreneurship and appropriate marketing through GI under Intellectual Property Rights.

Born on August 5, 1960, in Jalalpur Mafi village in Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) Mirzapur district, Kant, through HWA, has been working to help the poor and artisans for 25 years.

He credits his commitment to inspiration from his father, Laxmi Kant Dwivedi. Kant has a PhD in soil and agricultural chemistry.

HWA — focused on issues such as women’s economic empowerment, environmental development, skill development, child rights and artisans’ and weavers’ development — as a social worker in Varanasi. Kant said: “Aside from those that have GI tags, 95 products are under the process of GI registration from UP, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, J&K, Ladakh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Assam and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.”

In eastern UP and Varanasi region, 18 crafts are GI-tagged. More than two million people, with an annual turnover of Rs 22,600 crore, have legally protected their traditional products, he says.

Banarasi brocades and saris, handmade carpets in Bhadohi, Banaras gulabi meenakari (pink enamelling), wooden lacquerware and toys, Mirzapur handmade dari, Nizamabad black pottery, metal repousse craft, glass beads, Ghazipur wall hangings, Varanasi soft-stone jali work and Chunar balua patthar (sandstone) and Gorakhpur terracotta are some of the products with GI tags.

Kant also got the National Intellectual Property award in 2017, the Samay Udyami award, 2012 as the best social entrepreneur and the Lokmat Samman in 2018.

As a promoter of these crafts, Kant has travelled to international events in Indonesia, Singapore, Germany, Israel, Abu Dhabi and Turkey

One of the GI tag beneficiaries, Rameshwar Singh, has been to Dubai and China to sell Varanasi wooden lacquerware and toys, which was GI-tagged in 2014-15. Singh said the demand has increased and he has to engage more than 1,800 people.

Kunj Behari Singh, a master in pink enamelling, summed up best the change GI-tagging brought to his craft after participating in the Dubai Expo in March.

“People from across the world saw our craft and many invited me to display it in their countries. GI tag has brought a sea change in the life of artisans,” he said.

Left to fend for himself, he would be driving an autorickshaw, which was the only way to supplement his income before 2014-15.

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