Handicraft Hero Lekhraj Maheshwari, The Man Behind Engineering The “Town of Excellence”

Talib Khan

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New Delhi, (24/12/2018): Lekhraj Maheshwari is today one of the most renowned and well respected Handicraft expert in India.
Born on May 11, 1948 at Barmer district of Rajasthan, his journey is one of hardwork and passion.

The poor financial conditions of his family did not allow him to extend his education after perusing high school with a distinction in English. After he gave up his education, Maheshwari joined his father, Mathuradas Maheshwari, who was engaged in the business of manufacturing traditional handlooms.

Since he was a brilliant student, he explored the handloom industry and after spending a short time in the sector, he realised the importance of the unique art and found that the number of artisans from remote areas of Barmer needed a suitable platform to showcase their talent.

Maheshwari helped people including women belonging to remote areas in and around Jodhpur to demonstrate the hidden talent — which was under the shadows – by increasing awareness to such an extent that 1.5 lakh artisans—weavers, painters, dyers, and woodworkers—mostly women in the border areas of Gujarat and Rajasthan, were provided regular jobs through sale of handloom and handicraft items.

The establishment of “urban haats” in various cities of Rajasthan was the result of his efforts.

Beginning at the age of 19, he went on to win various prestigious state-level and national awards besides holding important positions in this vast sector. He indeed made strenuous efforts to cope with challenges faced by traders.

Since he joined the handloom and handicrafts sector in 1967 along with wife, Prakash Devi, he has left an indelible mark.
In 2002, India organised its first ‘India festival caracas’ in Venezuela joined by Maheshwari, along with 30 artisans had achieved big success under his leadership.

Maheshwari travelled globally to promote handlooms and handicrafts of his village. He motivated foreigners to visit tourist spots of Rajasthan including Barmer, in order to popularise local crafts. He has been wearing the hat of ‘handlooms and handicrafts’ for the past five decades.

Maheshwari also served as chairman of Export Promotion Council of Handicrafts (EPCH), a subsidiary of union textile ministry.

He is famous for his decade-long devotion to handlooms and handicrafts and during his stewardship, EPCH also touched new heights.

He had given his devotion and sincere efforts in promoting handicraft exports, he discharged the functions of trade delegation leader during India festivals in Australia and New Zealand (2005), United Kingdom (2006), Brazil (2008), Greece (2009-11-13), Turkey (2011), Hong Kong, Japan, China (2013), and USA (2014).

In 2013-15, he was elected as EPCH president. He has been functioning as CEO member of EPCH till today. In 2002, he became vice-chairman of EPCH when Indian Furniture Housing and Accessories Show was organized for the first time and he was made its chairman.
Barmer honoured with “Town of Export Excellence” (in exim policy) by the government of India, which was because of Maheshwari’s continuous efforts and support. This has brought many benefits to workers as well as exporters.

Aiming for the stars: How the journey progressed

In 1971, about one lakh families (mostly Meghwal) had come to India of which 50,000 families had come to Rajasthan and the 50,000 families to Kutch-Bhuj. They had brought with them materials used in embroidery. They had no sources of making both ends meet. Maheshwari took their products to Delhi and sold them. From 1972 to 1980, he strived to send their products to Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi. Between 1978 and 1980, he made every effort to popularise handloom products in big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Goa, Chandigarh, Amritsar and Ahmedabad through the medium of exhibitions.

This strategy provided for 1,50,000 people. After the demand of handicrafts products started rising in foreign countries like England, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, the trade of thousands of Maheshwari families living in Barmer, Jodhpur and Jaipur picked up.

In 2006, he managed to get 9,000 yards of land for MBY Jaipur (School) for a token amount of Re 1, for which he was honoured at a special function. In 2008-11, he did commendable work as a member of Jaipur Maheshwari Samaj.

Barmer, in western Rajasthan, is known as a miniature Rajasthan with all its colours, affection and traditions. Till a few years back, Barmer was directionless in terms of economic and social growth.

Land being infertile, people in Barmer were living the hard way.

Recalling his initial years of struggle, Maheshwari says: ”It was difficult to convince them to bring consistency in design. It took time and effort to educate the artisans that it was not handicrafts but the design ideas that sell in the market. Seventy per cent of total handicraft products from Barmer are exported to various countries, including US and EU. Remaining 30 per cent are being sold in the domestic market.”
This is indeed a matter of pride and joy for Barmer’s ‘Handicrafts Hero’.

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