By Deviyani Gupta
Shrujan is a not-for- profit organisation breathing a fresh lease of life into the crafts of Kutch.
In the year 1969, Chandaben Shroff journeyed to Kutch, Gujarat, along with the Ramakrishna
Mission to lend her support to the drought relief. Having visitied Dhaneti village, she came to realise that the Ahir community was reluctant to receive her help packages, and instead, insisted on being given work. This sentiment mirrored across several communities of Chunvaliya Koli,Mutwa and Miyana, to name a few, in the Kutch area. Another similarity in all these communities was the intricate embroidery done by their women. As Chanda took notice of their unique craft, she decided to conduct an experiment. Handing out sarees to 30 women belonging to different communities of Kutch, she asked them to embroider on the same. The pieces were sold in Bombay, with demands for more. Hence came about the Shrujan Trust.
For the last half a century, the Bhuj based NGO has dedicated itself to empowering women, helping revive their skill of making authentic and intricate hand embroidered Kutch craft. Today, Shrujan provides a livelihood to over 6,000 craftswomen living in 120 remote villages of Kutch, practising over 45 distinct embroidery styles. The success led to Chanda Shroff becoming the first Indian laureate of the Rolex Awards, awarded for her plan to ensure the survival of an exquisite art form (2006).
With the passing of Chanda Shroff last year, her daughter, Ami Shroff was handed over the baton. Having been born five years into the workings of Shrujan, Ami has seen the Trust grow. She believes that if it wasn’t for Shrujan, embroidery would have vanished by the late 70’s and 80’s. Taking the Trust under her wing, the organisation then founded ‘The Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC), which is not only India’s biggest Craft’s Museum, but also an active nucleus for crafts from the Kutch region. “The LLDC is our new baby that needs to be nurtured with the right care and attention”, says Ami. She goes on to hope that it will culminate into a Crafts School in the near future that will offer full-time courses on different crafts in the Kutch region. She aspires for the school to have fully equipped working studios for all the 22 crafts of Kutch. “This will make LLDC the single-largest living and working craft environment in Kutch and perhaps in India as well.”
To promote India's handloom and embroidery heritage, Shrujan presented its work at the Lakme Fashion Week for the first time (2017). “It was our pleasure to bring the traditional embroideries of
Kutch craft to India's fashion centre stage with ace designers Sudha Patel & Pam Easton. “LFW gave us an international platform and much needed recognition for our artisans and their superior quality work.”
Embroidery for the women of Kutch is a passionate expression of a long tradition. “Developed in
their free time as a hobby, the intricacies and attention to detail affect the duration a certain piece
will take to create. For instance, a heavily embroidered lehenga took about 12 months to 2 years to become a finished product while cholis or kanchlis with complicated work can take up to 2 or 3
months to finish.”