Standing up for the handmade industry and its distressed workers, the Gram Seva Sangh (GSS) held a protest at Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall in Bengaluru on Sunday evening. The ‘Protest Against Neglect of Handmade’ comes eight months after the initial struggle which began at the same place.
In these eight months, various protests, padayatras and hunger strikes were held to voice their concerns. The padayatra which covered 300 kilometres was instrumental in understanding art and culture of the numerous hand-makers as well as their existing problems.
“Gram Seva Sangh demands the exemption of GST for all hand-made products to enable sustainable livelihoods through better value for hand-made goods”, said Abhilash CA, Convener, GSS. The GST council promised to bring hand-made products under zero-GST three months ago at its 25th meet. The council undertook two decisions at this meeting, exempting 29 handicrafts from GST and accepting the definition of handicraft products which was proposed by the Fitment committee in November last year which was represented by Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister of Agriculture for State, Government of Karnataka.
“Nothing has come out in the public domain. The details of the 29 products and the definition of handicrafts have not been disclosed by the government, leaving the artisans with negligible benefits. We do not know if the handloom industry has been included, which forms the second highest production industry,” said Abhilash who criticised the GST council, which despite being an autonomous body, has not taken any action or decision yet.
Abhilash told TNM, “In 27th council meet, they did not answer these questions. We want action to be taken soon as nothing has changed on the ground. Our definition of handmade is not merely handicrafts, but also includes the rain-fed, small and marginal farmers and the theatre industry.”
The protest saw participation from eminent artists, writers and activists such as HS Doreswamy, MS Sathyu, Prasanna Heggodu, Chandra Jain, Mudnakudu Chinaswamy, Santhosh Koulagi, Nalini Shekar among others. Folk songs were sung with the dual purpose of expressing the concerns of the Sangh and attracting the attention of passers-by. Slogans such as “Beda beda GST beda!” were chanted with assertion.
“The tax relief, apart from the exemption, would have encouraged all the rural producers to federate and be capable of competing with brands such as Amul and Desi. This would have become a great incentive for forming federations. They have the potential of competing with other international brands”, said Prasanna, who has spearheaded the entire struggle.
Protesters claimed that this step is pivotal for the economy of the country and to sustain the ecology of the world. Government should minimise the use of imported goods and maximise the production and availability of the locally-produced products which would solve the crisis of unemployment in our country. “The handmade industry comprises 60% of India’s population and the GST council has been lying to them”, Prasanna alleged.
Protesters sought a reason to vote in the upcoming elections since none of the parties have paid attention to the handmade workers’ requirements, or given them any importance in their manifestos. Several important questions were asked including, ‘Why these sections of the society live in abject poverty?’, ‘Why only rice and not jowar, ragi, millets, oilseeds and other local varieties of food crops are not being included in the Public Distribution System (PDS)?’ and ‘Why don’t you encourage people-friendly Santhes (traditional, open markets) instead of private supermarkets?’