The next time you visit the GPO, step into the 450-sq-feet Tribes India shop in a corner of the Central Dome. The year-old outlet is one of the 40 shops that were started under the aegis of the Tribal Co-operative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED). The first shop was opened in 1998 at New Delhi’s Mahadev Road.
Here, you will chance upon eight categories including Dokra metal craft, textiles including sarees, stoles and shawls, cane and bamboo products like flutes, jewellery such as necklaces and bangles, stationery, furnishings, apparel, bags and purses as well as organic products such as honey, amla juice and tulsi syrup. Stone pottery from the North East, made from rock sediment, and mixed with clay, make for robust kettles and coffee mugs. Warli (Maharashtra), Saura (Orissa), Pitora (Gujarat) and Gond (Madhya Pradesh) paintings are also on sale.
Rajiv Vaidya, General Manager of TRIFED, explains the need for a shop selling tribal products, “Between 7 and 8% of our population is tribal, which equals 10 crore people. These numbers surpass the population of several European countries. Tribals depend on forest produce, and job opportunities for them are meagre. Hence, they fall back upon collection of forest produce, which is sold in the market. Tribes India shops were started to offer such tribals a suitable remuneration for their creative efforts, and to eliminate the middleman.”
The staff at TRIFED shortlist products sourced from regions such as the North East, Orissa, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The chosen items are displayed at showrooms across the country. A new range of products is introduced every few months alongside high-selling products. Tribal artisans are also given opportunities to display their creations at various exhibitions. The profits are returned to tribals and re-routed for various tribal welfare projects.
The GPO may seem a curious choice of location for a tribal handicraft shop. But CHV Ramakrishna, Deputy Manager at TRIFED, explains its central location works well. With the GPO’s consent the showroom opened within the premises, with an extendable lease of three years: “India’s tribal culture is very rich and it needs to be introduced to an urban audience,” he says, adding that a stringent quality check ensures only products by tribals are on sale.
We loved the cushion covers from Nagaland, the Tope, a handkerchief-shaped purse from Jaipur, wall hangings featuring images of Ganesha from Maharashtra and the bamboo flutes from the North East. Tribes India products are affordable; discounts are available on several products and festive sales are also held here. First-timer’s tip: Avoid asking for directions from GPO employees; this writer was pleasantly surprised when one of them insisted that no such shop existed on its premises.