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Jhabua's doll art yearns for identity and market

Explore the doll art of Jhabua, with its unique tribal culture. Learn how it was first introduced commercially in 1952.

By Shishir Agrawal
New Update
Jhabua Doll Art

The Shakti Emporium, tucked away in a small lane far from Jhabua's main market, is known to locals as 'Gudiya Ghar'. This is where Jhabua's renowned dolls are produced. Subhash Gidwani, who manages the doll house, says this art was first introduced commercially in Jhabua by his father, Uddhav Gidwani. Subhash shares that, in 1952, to promote self-sufficiency among Jhabua's tribal population, the government hosted a training program at the Training Cum Production Center (TCPC). His father was assigned as a chief officer here and individuals were trained in doll-making. Subhash's father later carried on this craft in his own home, a tradition that remains alive to this day.

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What is doll art?

The tribal doll of Jhabua is a stuffed doll art. In this, a tribal couple– man-woman– and their culture are shown. They are in their traditional costumes. Apart from this, things like bows and arrows, sickles and bamboo baskets are also included to show the daily life and culture of the tribals here.

Tribal culture is shown through the doll art of Jhabua
Tribal culture is shown through the doll art of Jhabua

For Mukta Parmar, this art is not just a means to decorate homes, but also a means to run their household. Parmar is disabled but instead of being bound by physical limitations, he thought of expanding herself through art. She has been making dolls in the above-mentioned 'Gudiya Ghar' (Doll House) for the last 15 years. Speaking to Ground Report she says,

“If I had not learned this work, I would have had to depend on my family. But now I can fulfil my needs on my own and can also pay for household expenses.”

Self-independent Mukta occupied in making the famous Jhabua dolls
Self-independent Mukta occupied in making the famous Jhabua dolls

How are dolls made?

For the past three decades, Lakshmi, the guru of Mukhta, has been involved in this work. She details the doll-making process, beginning with the creation of the doll's mold from cloth. This cloth is then cut and patterned based on a template. Once sewn, the doll's appendages and body parts are prepared and stuffed with cotton to give them life. Needle-and-thread stitching is used to fasten these elements. The doll's face is constructed from plaster of Paris and subsequently adhered.

These dolls are made from cloth and cotton
These dolls are made from cloth and cotton

Lakshmi tells that it takes her about an hour to make a doll. Recalling the past, she says, “During my training at TCPC, I used to get Rs 110 a month for this art.” Currently they get Rs 50 for each doll. With this monthly income, Lakshmi provides financial support to her joint family.

“We could not find even a small niche in the market”

The doll artistry has not only garnered acknowledgment for its creators, but also for Jhabua. However, Bharti Gidwani observes that despite its acclaim, the financial returns remain very meager. She expresses her dissatisfaction to the authorities, stating,

“The government has not given us any support to promote this art. We were not even given a small shop in the market so we could sell these dolls there.”

Ramesh Parmar and his wife Shanti Parmar, who had involvement in this art a year ago, received the Padma Shri award. Nevertheless, Bharti confirms that this hasn't alleviated her struggles. She noted that these dolls are presently being sold in Indore, Bhopal, and Delhi. Yet, in her opinion, a unique market for this art form hasn't been established.

Bharti explains," the orders for this doll are usually received when people learn about the art through media, various other outlets, or when a tribal culture event occurs." She adds, there is no consistent market for it anywhere in the country."

According to Bharti, this art and her family have not got enough respect.
According to Bharti, this art and her family have not got enough respect.

Waiting for GI tag

Bharti considers her family and the artists working there to be worthy of respect. She says that it was due to her father's efforts that this art got recognition. Apart from this, GI tag is also being demanded by these artists. There was also a possibility of it getting GI tag in the year 2021. But, nothing is official till this day. Bharti says,

“We sent the file related to this to the government several times but we have still not received the GI tag.”

The Handicraft Development Scheme was launched by the Central Government under the National Handicraft Development Programme. Under this, the government had to create handicraft clusters. But till now no such effort has been made regarding this art in Jhabua. There are 67 such clusters in the entire Madhya Pradesh in which a total of 5784 working artists.

It would be difficult to save art amid inflation

Bharti says, amidst rising inflation it is becoming difficult to save this art. She tells that the prices of cloth and cotton used in making this doll have increased due to which the cost per doll has increased. Bharti says

“The cotton which used to cost Rs 10 per kg earlier now costs Rs 70 to 80 per kg. In such a situation, the economic profit from this art is very less. It will be very difficult to preserve this art in future.”

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