28 October, 2020

Chamar Studio: When A Word Of Abuse Becomes Pride Of The Dalit Community

Sudheer Rajbhar's radical concept of establishing Chamar Studio, a designer boutique, is unique. The Dalit community's ability as craftsmen is coming to the fore

Sudheer Rajbhar with workers at his Vakola workshop
Photograph By Apoorva Salkade
Chamar Studio: When A Word Of Abuse Becomes Pride Of The Dalit Community

Sudheer Rajbhar’s beige tote bags are as fancy as they come. However, what sets his apart from the scores of totes you see in a SoBo gallery or Hauz Khas Village boutique is the word chamar inscribed on them in a dozen languages. Chamars are a community outside the pale of the Hindu caste system, who tradition­ally worked in the leather and tanning industries. It has been used as a word of abuse, a practice the Supreme Court deems offensive and punishable. But Sudheer’s reference to the term is far from pejorative; in fact, he wants to reclaim it as an epithet of pride—a symbol of the skill and artistry of the community.

Sudheer is the founder of Chamar Studio, a designer boutique which melds business with sustainability and Dalit pride. Born and brought up in the slums of Mumbai, Sudheer studied art in the city, but has no formal training in design. The studio’s artisans give a new lease of life to discar­ded rubber and other waste by recycling these as bags, belts, shoes and jackets. At its 80-sqft workshop, located on the first floor of a...



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