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Sabars of Jharkhand


Sabars of Jharkhand


Sabars of Jharkhand

Every weekend, for over 20 years, 62-year-old Suchitra Sinha travels 96 km from Ranchi to the hamlets of Saraikela district in Jharkhand. She carries bags filled with essentials like sweets, clothes, and flip-flops, rallying donations from her acquaintances for the local people. A former IAS officer, she has been visiting these tribal communities for over two decades.

Her connection with the Sabars, one of the endangered adivasis, began in 1996 while posted in Jamshedpur. Bharat Seva Sangha representatives appealed for aid for the Sabar adivasis, which piqued her interest. The Sabars claim their descent from Sabari of Ramayana. Upon visiting their villages, Mrs Suchitra was taken aback by their abject poverty. Their houses were mere bamboo structures, barely four feet tall, forcing them to crawl to enter. Many of the Sabars survive on foraging and hunting, even today. Most do not have access to education or medical facilities. 

She discovered the Sabars, merely 216 families strong, were heavily reliant on the forest for survival. They crafted six-feet-high baskets using Kansi grass and Date leaves. This moved Suchitra, who felt compelled to uplift their living standards. Using government funds, she began her initiative to revive their traditional craft.

Transferred to New Delhi in 1998, Suchitra showcased a tribal basket to the Handicrafts Board, sparking a chain of collaborative projects. She engaged designers from NIFT in Delhi, who worked with the adivasis to enhance their craft. Initially working with three hamlets, they created 152 prototypes—bags, lamps, planters, and more.

In 2002, Suchitra established the Ambalika NGO to aid Sabar tribe development and promote their craft. Despite challenges in securing government and corporate projects, she persevered. However, increased Naxal activity in 2005 halted her efforts. Safety concerns forced her to cease training.

Yet, in 2011, she rekindled her efforts during the India International Trade Fair. Building local connections, she reignited her work. By 2012, she facilitated a handcrafted furniture deal for the Sabars. As their income surged, the Naxals were driven out, although the tribe guards their territory fiercely.

Amid the pandemic, when illness struck, Suchitra arranged healthcare for the tribals. She also secured an unused building for them, now their workspace. From earning Rs 500-600 in the late '90s, they now make Rs 4000-7000 monthly. Their products, priced between Rs 600-3000, are sold on various e commerce channels and by Suchitra herself.

By ayaasu handicrafts