Published: 16th May 2020
The lockdown has hit Dharavi's artisans making totes for Chamar Studio hard. Here's how you can help
Chamar Studio was launched by an artist Sudheer Rajbhar in 2017. It employs the artisans from the Chamar caste in Dharavi
Had Miranda Presley glanced at this catalogue, we bet she would feature those totes in her magazine. Made of recycled rubber, these totes are the ones that you could flaunt at a party, a meeting or during a regular day at work. They don't look any less glamorous than your Gucci or Prada purses, but unlike the big brands, they are identified by the artisans who make them and the years of struggles that they had gone through in the past. The brand doesn't shy away from the word Chamar, the caste to which most of its artisans belong, but wears it loud and proud.
Thinking out of one's privilege-clad bubble, a lot of us (to our surprise) will find out that a lot of the common cuss words in most Indian languages have casteist undertones. Even today, many casually throw around terms like Chamar, Bhangi and Chandal as cuss words, to demean someone — at someone else's cost. In that very world, Sudheer Rajbhar's brand Chamar Studio certainly stands out, to support a group that was historically ostracised in every way. A Mumbai-based artist, Sudheer employs artisans from the Chamar caste, a Dalit community, from the slums of Dharavi to make bags and wallets.
"You know, the term Chamar is used to demean someone even today. We are trying to change that through this brand," says Sudheer, an artist, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai. The brand was established three years ago and Sudheer tells us that he registered it as a company in 2020.
The artist admits that people were shocked initially when they first heard of the brand. "But things are changing now, there is acceptability," he says. However, for him and the artisans, the future looks uncertain. "I don't know if people will continue buying our products after the lockdown is lifted. These are made in Dharavi and there is a certain amount of fear that people will have, about COVID-19," he says. At the time of writing this article, Dharavi had reported around 1,028 COVID-19 cases and 40 deaths.
The pandemic and the lockdown has undoubtedly hit the artisans quite hard. While Sudheer is relieved that no one has been affected by the virus as yet, he is worried about their economic situation at the same time. He has also started a crowdfunding campaign on ketto to support these artisans. "They are somehow managing their everyday needs. But nobody knows for how long this lockdown will go on," he says. They have raised Rs 2,87,917 as part of the campaign, at the time of writing this story.
Here's hoping they hit the mark.
Check out their campaign here: https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/chamar-studio-relief-fund?payment=form