Tragedy of Channapatna, the land of wooden toys in India

Tragedy of Channapatna, the land of wooden toys in India
Tragedy of Channapatna, the land of wooden toys in India
Tucked between the cities of Bengaluru and Mysuru in Karnataka, lies Channapatna, also known as "gombegala ooru" or “toy town”, famous all over the
world for its unique wooden toys that even adorn the shelves of the White House in The United States of America.
But some of the toy makers say they are seeing a reduction in demand for their products with others saying it is due to cheaper alternatives and lower quality. 
The real charm of Channapatna is that the craft is not practiced in large-scale industries and factories, but within the confines of small homes.
This aspect has certainly made a mark on the international circuit. One employee of Sri Beereshwara Arts and Crafts claims that all of the 60- 70 pieces they make every day are exported to foreign countries.
Furthermore, Channapatna toys had a prestigious place at this year’s Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, when the show was led by Karnataka’s tableau display of the toys.
But in the last five years the demand has drastically fallen some of the producers say.
“Channapatna toys are facing severe competition from Chinese toys, which have already altered the buying preferences of the customers. Consumers prefer to buy these inferior quality toys over Channapatna toys since they are cheaper,” Nazar (name changed), who has been in the trade for more than four decades, says.
Srinivas BK of Maya Organic, a livelihood development initiative, also agrees that the demand for traditional Channapatna toys has declined over the years, partly due to many artisans leaving the trade. 
Maya Organic's Home Decor Range
But they were quick to realise this and moved to innovative techniques to revive it, such as bringing in contemporary designs in toys and decorative items. Maya Organic is also creating a network of artisans to produce quality wooden goods and providing training programmes to artisans to keep them in the trade.
“As a marketing strategy, we have collaborated with Flipkart and moved into the online space as well. This enables us to grow our customer base and deliver products across the country,” he says.
The Karnataka government has also made some efforts to keep the craft alive. Along with Karnataka State Small Industries Development Corporation Limited (KSSIDC) and Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH), they set up a Crafts Park in the late 2000s in Kalanagara and introduced mechanised facilities for production.
A Common Facility Service Centre (CFSC) with sophisticated woodcraft machinery was also established on the 14-acre land. In addition to this, the Karnataka government had sanctioned a sum of Rs 650 lakh for the project, which is open to all exporters and artisans.
As one walks into the Crafts Park one can see a number of production units lined one after the other, with a building that houses machinery for common use.
But Sayed Zafar, who has set up a production unit of Ajmal handicrafts at the Crafts Park, has a different story to tell.
“This common facility is advantageous to those artisans who cannot afford to buy machinery themselves. However, majority of the machinery is meant for carpenters and does not really help the toy makers. Even when the Park was set up to revive the production of Channapatna toys, the inadequacy of machinery for the manufacture of toys is a major downside,” he says.
The government has also been trying to develop the industry through the Vishwa scheme and providing various platforms like government-run handicraft stores.
But the toy producers say that the concern is whether the initiatives taken by the government and other external organisations can actually take a concrete shape in the form of increased demand, which remains to be seen.
All photographs by Benita Chacko and Megha Varier

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