Kashi-based craftsman Rameshwar Singh, and those from his fraternity, have found new hope amid the pandemic after Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday pitched for increasing the share of Indian toys in the global industry.
Rameshwar, a skilful maker of wooden toys and a national merit award winner, feels the golden days will be back for the Rs 30-crore wooden toy industry in Varanasi and its adjoining districts. Varanasi, the PM Modi’s parliamentary constituency, is a hub of wooden toys which are made in the city’s Kashmiriganj Khojwan area.
“We are very happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the toy industry and also pitched for its promotion. I am sure the golden days of the wooden toy industry will be back soon,” he said.
The artisans would strive to make Varanasi’s toy industry worth Rs 70 crore in the next one year, he added.
In his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’, PM Modi on Sunday appealed to start-up entrepreneurs to “team up for toys”, saying it was the time to get “vocal” for local toys.
“Around 3,000 artisans, including craftsmen and craftswomen, earn their livelihood by making toys out of wood (in Varanasi),” said Dr Rajnikant, a Padma Shri awardee who works for the conservation and promotion of traditional crafts.
The wooden toys are exported to the United States, Russia, Latin American countries, European countries, including Germany and Spain, several South-East Asian countries and the Gulf, Dr Rajnikant stated. These are also in demand in different states of the country.
Lacquerware and wooden toys made in Varanasi, Sonbhadra, Chandauli and Mirzapur got the Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2015 following his efforts, he added.
GI is a name or sign used on certain products which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin (a town, region or country). The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users, or at least those residing inside the geographic territory, are allowed to use the popular product name.
Dr Rajnikant also said he was instrumental in getting the GI tag for a total of 12 products in Varanasi and the adjoining areas.
About 15 years ago, the Varanasi wooden toy cottage industry suffered a jolt due to a flood of Chinese plastic toys in the market. But the local industry’s condition started improving in 2015 after it got the GI tag.
“We make traditional wooden toys, including wooden utensils, lattoo (spinning top), small wooden birds and animals. We also carve many decorative items out of wood. These are especially used on the occasions of Shri Krishna Janmashtami and Deepawali,” said Rameshwar Singh, adding that he learned the craft from his father Ramkhelawan Singh at the age of ten. Rameshwar has been engaged in making wooden toys for over three decades now.
Sunita Devi, Pushpa and Geeta, who also give shape to wooden toys, echoed the same sentiments.
Shivanand Maurya, a master artisan, said the wooden toys made in Varanasi were unique, beautiful and sustainable. They were made of mango, mahua and eucalyptus wood, he added.
“We are preserving the traditional art of making wooden toys. With the PM pitching for increasing the share of Indian toys in the global industry, we hope that the wooden toys made in Varanasi and adjoining pockets would further strengthen and expand their presence in the global market,” he said.