The Artisans Alliance of Jawaja (AAJ) represents an association of leather workers (Jawaja Leather Association, or JLA) and weavers (Jawaja Weaverâ€™s Association, or JWA) located in the Jawaja block of Ajmer District in Rajasthan. AAJ has a history of 35 years, and a national and international reputation for the quality of its hand-made products as well as for the experiment in self-reliance which its extraordinary history represents. Today, â€˜Jawajaâ€™ is a respected craft brand in an increasingly competitive global market for handmade products that use heritage skills to meet contemporary needs.
Every Jawaja product is entirely â€˜handmade in Indiaâ€™ using natural materials. The Jawaja range includes a classic collection which has been in demand for over three decades, as well as new collections created in an artisan designer partnership that is the hallmark of AAJ.
AAJ works as a marketing agency, building entrepreneurship capacities that can give artisans greater control over the marketing process. AAJ, and its two Associations, is managed by the artisans themselves through a democratic system of governance that is linked to its history. The artisans of Jawaja were the catalysts for â€˜The Rural Universityâ€™ experiment in education for self-reliance that began in 1975 under the leadership of the late Prof Ravi J Matthai, the first full-time Director of the celebrated Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad). That experiment linked the artisans with contemporary disciplines and institutions of knowledge, including IIMA and the National Institute of Design (NID), in a relationship of mutual learning and mutual respect. ˜The Rural Universities experiment at Jawaja has had a far-reaching influence, well beyond the craft sector.
Jawaja is a very backward block in Rajasthan. Over 85,000 people live in approximately 200 villages in an area that is drought and flood-prone, with little arable land and water. The caste system remains strong in this difficult region, and artisans are at the bottom of the social ladder. The Artisans Alliance of Jawaja (AAJ) has a history of 35 years. It has earned a national and international reputation for the quality of its handmade products, as well as for the experiment in self-reliance which its history represents.
In 1975, the late Prof Ravi J Matthai decided to test management knowledge at the gut level of Indian need: in the struggles of those oppressed by poverty and neglect. He invited the National Institute of Design, then in the early stages of introducing design education to India, to join his search for relevance. Matthai chose the degraded Jawaja block in Ajmer District (Rajasthan) as the testing ground of new Indian disciplines applied to age-old challenge of poverty and discrimination. How best could contemporary know-how be linked with age-old wisdom and skills? How could new partnerships be forged between modern centres of learning (such as IIMA and NID, the first of several partners with AAJ) and the so-called â€˜unorganizedâ€™ sector within which the vast majority of Indians seek their livelihood? To find answers, Matthai christened his experiment â€˜The Rural Universityâ€™. In it, all participants would learn from one another, without classrooms and without any distinctions between teachers and the taught, and in which the ultimate benchmark of achievement would be genuine self-reliance, mutual learning and mutual respect. Thus began an extraordinary Endeavour of far-reaching influence, not only on the participants but on some of the most significant efforts in Indian civil society over the past decades.
The Jawaja project attempted to influence rural education through development activities that could make local education relevant to local needs, and help initiate a wider range of economic and social choices. Early efforts included animal husbandry, vegetable cultivation, horticulture, weaving of wool and cotton, spinning, leather tanning and fabrication of leather products and even rope-making. In time, products of leather, wool and cotton emerged as the Jawaja â€˜brandâ€™. Greater self-reliance was the goal, to reflect an ability of the artisans to gain greater control of livelihood efforts, away from the exploitation by traditional power structures. Villagers learnt to manage their own activities including procurement of materials, handling finances, learning to deal with banks, drawing on specialized institutions of design and technology and above all, acquiring greater command over the marketing process. The number of participating villages grew through a process of one villager teaching another, who teaches another, one village helping another village, and thus gradually building a network of mutually helpful relationships. This â€˜extensibilityâ€™ of economic activity was intended to encourage both self-reliance and the ability to dispense or transform the initial external inputs - of which IIMA and NID were the most prominent.
Jawaja Weavers Association
The segment of AAJ that makes the textile products comprises of the weavers calling themselves Jawaja Weavers Association or JWA. The weavers are from the town of Beawar Khas in the block of Jawaja. They share a workshop and godown with the Jawaja Leather Association - the other part of AAJ.
The weavers are a small group of people weaving fantastic weaves, all from scratch. They procure very crude form of raw materials and then do all the processes to churn out a beautiful weave.
The products the weavers make are mainly Floor Mats or Carpets, Yoga Mats, Prayer Mats, Bed Covers, Shawls, Cushion Covers. The beauty of the weaves they make are from the very
fact that they are all hand woven and hand spun. In the pages that follow, there is a more detailed account of how they make their products, all the different types of weaves and all their various designs.