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Often Gone Unnoticed, Tribal Women’s Craft Is Central To Odisha’s Economy: Kavya Saxena, Rural Entrepreneur

  • IWB Post
  •  January 30, 2023

Rural entrepreneur Kavya Saxena is defying all norms to follow her calling of leading a simple and rustic life.

Deep down, all of us have a dream of an unconventional career path in our hearts that we want to follow and set an example for the generations to come. However, in a world that is constantly trying to fit us into stiff boxes, possessing the courage to embark on what Robert Frost called “the road less traveled” is something that not all of us can do. Rural developer Kavya Sharma’s journey is a testimony to how a heterodox career option, though challenging, is also exponentially gratifying.

“It was in October 2020 when India was beginning to recover from the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic that I decided to give my childhood passion of traveling a chance. Having lived through a time full of uncertainties, I started questioning my conventional choices and realized that life was too unpredictable to wait for things one really wants to do,” shares rural entrepreneur Kavya Saxena, for whom traveling was never confined to the luxuries and fanciful spots of big cities. “I wanted to explore the rustic and simple life of villages. I took my four-wheeled home and traveled extensively for months around the Indian villages in Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh,” says Kavya. In an age that is marked by consumerism and capitalism, what really attracted Kavya to the villages was its unique architecture and the authentic food that came directly from the farms. When her long trip had come to an end and it was time for her to get dissolved in the hustle of an urban life again, she decided not to go and shifted to Koraput in Odisha. Known widely for its scenic beauty, Koraput also boasts of a diverse and rich tribal culture. A safe home to several tribal groups (Gadaba, Omnatiya, Paroja, Saura, Bhumia, Bhottadas, Durua), Koraput, with its immense diversity, had several lessons and experiences waiting for Kavya.

Kavya Saxena

Kavya shares a warm bond with the tribal women

“The initial months were extremely testing and tough as I tried navigating my way in an extremely foreign land that was far removed from the places I grew up in. The local tribes too were very extremely wary of  urban outsiders and hence did not want to engage in any communication with me. With time, however, I managed to earn their trust by trying to learn their dialect and understand their distinct customs which might seem very alien to an urban dweller. Today, the tribal women of Koraput and I have formed a close knitted and intimate community where we talk about many subjects  from our shared struggles as women to our daily routine,” says Kavya.

Living with the adivasi community of Koraput, she came across the fine art produced by them and was extremely captivated by it. She knew then how to advance her calling of leading a rustic life – to create a platform to globalize and marketize their craftswork. Kavya launched her social venture, Craftpotli,  to create a safe market for the tribal communities. From accessories crafted out of coins and tribal bells to rich shawls embroidered with intricate motifs, representing the distinct culture of every tribe, today, Craftpotli is a haven for authentic tribal art. Funded fully by Kavya for a long time, the venture is now also supported by Google Incubator. Kavya credits this watershed moment in the development of Craftpotli solely to the tribal women for their unrelenting hard work.

“Throughout the course of my diverse career, from being an HR personnel to a rural entrepreneur, I have come across people from extremely different walks of life who taught me different things. However, the unwavering spirit and determination showcased by these women is unmatched,” Kavya says.

“Located at the intersection of gender, caste and class, tribal women often face multiple forms of discrimination, inflicted on them by their husbands and outside their homes by forest officials. Yet ,even in the face of such tough circumstances, they go about their day, working extremely hard towards  domestic chores and their artwork, which is an outlet for their emotions. To them, creativity and hard work comes as naturally as breathing. While growing up in urban areas, my cousins and I were very conscious about how we appeared to everyone and how well we matched societal standards of beauty. But, when it comes to these women, I feel that they are extremely courageous and confident in themselves to defy such norms and do what they love,” says Kavya about her women warriors.

Speaking about the nomadic life, Kavya admits that while it may seem very adventurous and fascinating on the surface, it comes with its fair share of  hardships. She feels she has conquered the material comfort of an urban life through determination but what she immensely misses is the warmth of her family back in Jaipur, whom she manages to visit twice in a year.

Believing that it is also important to leave the cloying comfort of home to achieve great things, Kavya hopes to create a rural ecosystem in which people are compelled to and can easily  visit the rural areas to see the rich artwork of tribal communities in person and feel its intricacies.

Written by- Tripti Moolchandani

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