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The Gandhian approach to life aims for greater equity, or "distributive justice," by promoting simple technology that will help meet basic human needs such as those for food, clothing, shelter, health and elementary education.

Rajasthan is home to the brilliant colours of woven cloths, prints and designs, but the people behind this heritage now fight to survive in a hostile market driven by synthetic techniques. Where the need to make a living is vital, skills development is a hugely important way to improve access to work. Since 1974 SWRC/Barefoot College has been tackling these issues through ‘learning by doing’, a way of learning that the college has nurtured through the years. Traditional and modern skills come together to form a new basis for craft work.  Rajasthan is a semi-arid state traditionally dependent on agriculture. Low rainfall saw workers migrate to cities in search of work. It therefore became urgent to strengthen the existing income-generating skills such as metalcraft, woodwork, weaving and masonry that gave rural farmers a supplementary income, and set up training in more modern techniques so that young local people could become hand-pump engineers, and women could train as solar engineers. In the mid-70s it was clear that under-employment of the rural population was going to be a problem. Tilonia’s hinterland in Ajmer District possesses large numbers of artisans working in various crafts, but owing to a flagging local market, their skills were dying. In 1975, the Barefoot College began promoting rural handicrafts, both to prevent the crafts themselves from disappearing and to ensure the survival of those who worked them. It was difficult for these craftspersons (dastakars), who belong mainly to Dalit and minority communities, to deal with both their social and economic problems. Tilonia made it a priority to work with them.


Tilonia’s work with crafts began in 1974-75, when leather was ‘bag tanned’, i.e. tanned to make it suitable for making bags, in Rajasthani villages. At that time women used their personal dexterity and skills; block printers worked on rough cotton, and weavers still used pit looms and short cloth widths. Wood and metal work came later. The first Tilonia ‘Bazaar’, held in 1975 at Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi, became the blueprint for many later ventures. Encouraged by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Pupul Jayakar, Shona Ray and Mrs. Sridharani who made the space available, the Tilonia Bazaar was one of the first attempts to connect rural crafts with urban India and its market. The Bazaar helped to establish craft as an integral part of people’s development, and now the ‘Bazaar’/haat has become a popular concept, enabling lakhs of rural craftspersons to find alternative markets in India. This long and exciting journey continues. The 50 year Bazaar in Triveni last year re-established the popularity of Tilonia crafts. Thousands of craftspeople, most of them women and Dalits, have been economically revitalised. Hatheli’s diverse and unique techniques have kept pace with modern demands, finding solutions to changing needs: Barefoot College has trained illiterate and semi literate rural women to become solar engineers, and we have even built cooking gas plants that use cow dung as their key raw material. The journey continues.

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Hatheli Sansthan

Hatheli Sansthan was set up as an independent registered society to invest in economic stability for craftspeople, women particularly. Worker-managed, and with an expertise born of a collective heritage, Hatheli has taken the Barefoot approach to handicrafts production and  marketing forward. Proceeds from sales are re-invested in further employment and crafts promotion. Hatheli, meaning ‘the palms of one’s hands’, is a symbolic and very real description of Tilonia’s journey through the Gandhian concepts of the richness of handmade products. With its splendid 50 year history, Hatheli’s journey continues with newer challenges and a growing archive of the history of traditional crafts in which each product has its own story and context. From being mere producers, its artisans--working in wood, metal, fabric and more- are beginning to look at design and what buyers want, and by selling directly they keep pace with the ever-changing market. Exhibitions have been held over the years in many Indian cities. The two retail shops in the Tilonia campus and at Patan showcase the work. Online sales are picking up.

Our Initiatives

Hatheli's woodwork program evolved from crafting toys to empowering craftspeople, training 70 students by 2023.

SWRC/Barefoot College fosters metalworking, with former students now thriving in workshops.

Empowering women reduces migration, while carpentry and solar training light up villages.

'Tilonia Bazaar' ecommerce, launched in 2020, aims to expand sales with volunteer support.


Wood Work

Rare and precious in Rajasthan, wood is used sparingly and work focusing on it has had its difficult moments. Hatheli’s woodwork section was set up in 1999 to make educational toys to help Barefoot College’s Night School students learn. New tools had to be introduced and craftsmen trained. But what began as a unit catering to learning needs grew, moving into giving support to house construction both in villages and on the campus, and finally to crafts. In 2000 vocational training to students from backward communities helped young people set up independent workshops. As of January 2023, we have trained 70 students in how to craft wood.

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Metalwork and Fabrication

The unit was born from the construction of the IRTC[1]  sanctioned by the Government of India in 1986.  The process of fostering local workers’ own traditional metal skills as well as bringing in outside expertise began when 150 ‘drop out’ students from the Night Schools were offered metalcraft training. It succeeded to the extent that these ‘students’ are now employed in different manufacturing units, some even having started their own workshops. Six women[2]  have been trained to make solar cookers, and have been able to use their skills to work on tractor bodies and other similar things. There is now a local demand for their skills.


Building Entrepreneurship, Overcoming Caste and Gender

Rajput and Muslim women traditionally observe purdah, but by encouraging and drawing them out of their homes for training, SWRC/Barefoot College has helped them build skills, and in turn they feel empowered. Dalit working women have gained too, having learned craft skills that now bring them a supplementary income, and the numbers migrating to cities have dropped dramatically. Hatheli has helped them in their business ventures through offering complementary skills training in entrepreneurship, basic banking, accounting and literacy. The carpentry section too provides a source of livelihood, especially for widows, specially abled and weaker individuals. One of our biggest achievements is training illiterate and semi-literate women to build solar cookers and lanterns. This skills development initiative has resulted in more than 1146 villages globally being solar-electrified.


E-commerce website

COVID-19 put major markets offline for most of the lockdown year. So, to boost sales and reach customers online globally, on 5th February 2020 Hatheli Sansthan launched the ‘Tilonia Bazaar’ ecommerce website Sales are projected to increase in the coming financial year through the Tilonia Bazaar website and social media promotions, marketing, branding, new product development and product diversifications. Our in-house team works with volunteers, both helping us deal with any technical and troubleshooting problems that might crop up. However, we would warmly welcome any time that volunteers could give in helping us further our online skills. It is crucially important for Tilonia Bazaar’s sustainable future that its online sales go from strength to strength.

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