Project Name: Gadaria Project

Gadaria are a shepherd caste found in North India whose name is derived from the old Hindi word "Gadar", which means sheep. The primary occupation of Gadaria was herding and rearing sheep and weaving woolen blankets from their fleece on handlooms. While moving from one village to another while tending their sheep, they sold their blankets to local farmers and others. Selling the blankets was not tough because the shepherds and the local buying community had relationships that continued from generations between shepherds & buying families. The blankets were requested well in advance of being made, because these were used for multiple purposes. In cold winter weather, the insulating properties of the wool and the particular way they were woven with thick yarns kept people warm. They served as protective cover for those working outside in the rain, because of the natural water resistant properties of the wool and most important, they were used as floor covers for sitting during gathering, drying up the grains, and other practical purposes.

Millions of shepherds, mainly living in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Bihar, were dependent for their supplementary cash income on selling raw wool, handspun and hand woven blankets. However, nearly all shepherd communities have abandoned their traditional occupation in last few decades. They have instead become engaged as laborers and masons or practice animal husbandry. Subsequently, the traditional market for shepherd’s blankets has been become habituated to softer and cheaper, machine-made, synthetic-fiber blankets and mats. Also, the younger generation does not consider sheep rearing dignified, and it does not meet current expectations of supplementary incomes.

Still, with 6.7 million shepherds, India has the 3rd largest population of sheep in world. However, India comes 9th in terms of wool production, which accounts for only 2% of total world’s annual wool production. These facts indicate gaps for this cottage industry as well as open up an opportunity to create stronger source of livelihood for the new generation of shepherd’s community.

Kala Swaraj Foundation has initiated a project with the Gadaria community in eastern Madhya Pradesh to explore and create a replicable model to make shepherding and artisanal textile-production a dignified source of income by developing wool products that are sought after by the market.