The designer helping artisans CoWIN

May 27, 2021 0 Comments

Sonica Sarna, a designer based in Delhi, is helping hundreds of weavers, printers, and dyers who form a part of the fashion supply chain, register for COVID-19 vaccinations

A few weeks ago, Sonica Sarna put out a message asking for volunteers to help artisans register on the CoWIN website, at the time available only in English. She was surprised when, in three days, she had 90 sign-ups.

Sarna, who runs a design company that works at the cross-section of fashion, education, and activism, and helps brands abroad navigate the Indian supply chain in the most sustainable manner possible, knew how overwhelming an online system could be for craftspeople. “From12 years of doing business with craftspeople, I knew that they may not know what Google is, what a website is, or what a browser is,” she says.

She also reached out to artisan community partners for the numbers of craftspeople: small businesses who manage orders, worker cooperatives, NGOs, or sometimes just the informal leader of a group of weavers, printers, and dyers. Of one of the few partners that responded quickly was Lavakumar Bharata, director of the Pochampally Handloom Park that works with about 300 artisans weaving handloom cloth. Bharata, who is still grappling with payment not coming in from big clients, says about 65% of his work force are women and 70% are under 45. “We immediately sent the list of weavers to her. We did not have all the phone numbers, so we had to find many people’s, which we did.”

Vidushi Chenna, a Telugu speaker volunteered after she saw the message on the Instagram page of @200millionartisans. Chenna, who works with the Crafts Council of India after graduating from NID last year, opted to work on this for about four or five hours a week. It helped that Sarna had put together a script with a 30-step process. While Chenna followed it, she found a degree of vaccine hesitancy in and around Pochampally.

She remembers once incident clearly: “An artisan asked me if I was getting a commission to push the vaccine, or if he would get a commission to take it, and though I said no to both, he wasn’t ready to believe me,” she says. He went on to say that if the Government really wanted people to take it, they would have sent their representatives door to door.

Generally a call can take 20 to 30 minutes if people are willing to go through the process, but there is confusion because of misinformation and superstition, says Sarna. People under 45 assume they don’t need to register; many are afraid that the vaccine will kill them; and most information they rely on is from friends and relatives.

Sarna’s firm works with 14 states, and while she did not have to do anything much in Northern Kerala around Kannur, where weavers knew the process, in Bengal’s Phulia artisan businesses had advised their workers to wait until the vaccines were actually available before registering. So far, she has sent out numbers of artisans to 90 people, and calls have been made to about 400.

In the Supreme Court, earlier in May, the Central Government submitted that those who are not digitally enabled can seek help from “family, friends, NGOs…”. “We consider ourselves friends,” says Sarna, who is waiting for data from volunteers on how many people have actually registered after the calls. She hopes that at the very least the calls may serve as a step towards vaccine acceptance.


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