How SELCO Foundation is drumming up change with the Dholakwaale

SELCO Foundation empowers this community of traditional artisans with access to clean energy, design inputs for product diversification, and market linkages.


This section on Social Innovation is made possible with the support of Deshpande Foundation India.

Home to diverse cultures and a vast population, India has been blessed with innumerable forms of traditional crafts. Unfortunately, it has also become a country of dying craft forms. With the rise of industrialisation and the benefits of mass production and distribution, the demand for handmade goods has suffered greatly.

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Around 50 families of the Mirasi community, originally from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, hand craft a variety of intricately carved percussion instruments – from dholaks and dumroos to djembes and drums and travel throughout the country in the hope of selling their wares. The trade is an ancient one, passed down in their families for generations, serving as the only source of livelihood for this group and earning them the moniker ‘dholakwaale‘. Since the market for the handmade drum business in and around their native villages is absent, it is necessary for the young people of the community to be on the move for most part of the year.

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Their possessions are meagre and they do not own dwellings or land in a particular place. While travelling, they camp on any empty land they can find and set up temporary shelters made of tarpaulin and casuarina poles. Among their various challenges are the lack of electricity, insensitive law enforcement, low demand for their products and the lack of efficient education, skilling, or health care facilities. The task of crafting the drums is usually done by male family members with boys joining the trade as early as the age of 10. The sales of drums in large urban centres like Bangalore, especially in non-festival seasons are low, often earning them as little as Rs. 100 a day. Further, to keep their products affordable and thus appealing, the artisans are forced to mass produce plain-looking drums, without any of the mastery that their original craft is known for.

Consequently, financial literacy and awareness of measures to improve their business is poor.

To counter these problems, the SELCO Foundation has stepped in. “The SELCO Foundation engages in field-based R&D and ecosystem building for decentralised renewable energy solutions that alleviate poverty in urban, rural and tribal areas. The organisation works across verticals such as energy access, built environment, health, water purification, livelihoods and education”, says Vaishali Rao of SELCO.

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Turning on the Sun

The first step SELCO Foundation took was to fulfill the community’s energy requirements in renewable ways. The Foundation set up a central charging station with a warranty of 5 years and annual maintenance. With autonomy of two days, the station has a provision of three 75 W solar panels and three 60 Ah batteries, which can charge up to 30 battery boxes. Each battery box can power a 3W CFL bulb for 6-8 hours. Along with this is a mobile charging unit with a 75 W panel and 60 Ah battery, which can charge 15 mobiles per day. The average cost of this system adds up to around ₹4,000. To cover the cost, a community owned model was implemented for the 30 systems. Here, each family paid a deposit of ₹200 to install the central charging station. Then, a monthly payment of about ₹100 by each family was handed over to the SELCO representative for efficient running of the system. The charging station, a portable solar cart was designed to adapt to the nomadic lifestyle of the community.

The intervention brought the dholakwaale access to clean energy and reduced their expenditure on kerosene. By providing light during the night time, it also raised their productivity. “But, we found that though they were able to make more drums, they did not necessarily have a market to sell the increased produce. This made us look in to other aspects of the ecosystem like capacity building, product diversification, and market linkages”,  states Rao.


The Foundation planned to use the long acquired skill of the community to make a lifestyle product that will be more appreciated by potential users. Rao mentions, “Product designers on our team spent time with the artisans and understood their raw material, supply chain, tools etc. and then came up with a lamp that retains the structure and detailing of the dholaks. The artisans were trained to make the lamps and guided with where to procure new materials like wiring, sockets, and, lamp shades. Now they began to make and sell it themselves.” However, after this, the traditional way of selling became a problem.

The new products created are not suited to be carried around and sold. The next step was to create market linkages. The Foundation is currently trying online portals and connecting the artisans with interior decor stores who will stock their products. The products have also been exhibited at various crafts markets to boost direct sales of the products. “The biggest challenge here is getting a standardised quality. The fact that the drums are hand carved means each piece has a uniqueness but stores usually want the type of standard factory made products that they are used to.”

All images courtesy The SELCO Foundation

The Social Innovation Sandbox is a series chronicling novel solutions across the country that are seeking to transform life quality for the millions at the base of the pyramid in India.

DF LOGO HIGH RESOLUTIONThe series is supported by the Deshpande Foundation India that is based out of Hubli and is building a nurturing ecosystem for entrepreneurship, innovation, and local, grassroots efforts so that young people can transform this growing country.

Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more


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Anukrati Mehta is a student of Journalism and Communication, and hopes to make a difference in the world through her written words. She wishes to combine her passion for writing, journalism and travel by pursuing travel journalism in the future. more

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