Sikki, also known as ‘Golden Grass’ due to its distinctive color, belongs to the zizanoides grass family, scientifically referred to as Chrysopogon zizanioides. Ancient Sanskrit texts like the Ramayana mention it as viran, sugandhimool, ushir, and nalad. Indigenous to the Tarai regions of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this grass, with an average height of 3-4 feet, serves various purposes. While its stem is utilized for crafting artifacts, the roots yield oil used in perfumery and medicine. Additionally, Sikki is now cultivated in hilly terrains to combat soil erosion. However, its most renowned application lies in handicrafts, sustaining livelihoods for generations.
Traditional items like multipurpose baskets, ornaments, and showpieces, crafted from Sikki, hold cultural significance in rural India. Despite its cultural capital, Sikki lacks adequate governmental support compared to other regional specialties like Makhana and Madhubani paintings. Though it received geographical identification in 2018, promotion efforts fall short. Rajesh Kumar, a third-generation Sikki artisan, expresses disappointment, citing unfulfilled promises of financial aid for setting up stalls at national trade fairs.
Climate change poses a challenge, affecting grass quality, while the COVID-19 pandemic worsens economic conditions for Sikki artisans. Despite the labor-intensive nature of Sikki craft, returns remain meager. Many craftsmen, like Rajesh, discourage their children from pursuing this trade, lamenting the lack of security and support.
The intricate process of Sikki handicrafts, from grass preparation to weaving, is time-consuming and physically demanding. Artisans face health issues, from chronic back pain to skin abrasions, with limited access to affordable healthcare. Deteriorating grass quality, competition from cheap plastic goods, and the preference for synthetic items pose additional threats to Sikki craft.
Amidst these challenges, artisans advocate for the eco-friendly qualities of Sikki and its health benefits. They stress the need for government awareness campaigns to promote Sikki over harmful plastic alternatives. Despite being deeply rooted in environmental sustainability, Sikki art struggles to gain recognition in contemporary times.
The plight of Sikki artisans reflects a broader issue of neglect by the state, pushing families toward migration and daily wage labor. To preserve India’s folk culture and promote eco-friendly alternatives, genuine government interest and support for organic goods like Sikki are essential. Artisans like Rakesh question why Makhana and Madhubani paintings receive promotion while Sikki remains overlooked, proposing innovative ideas like using Sikki baskets for packing makhanas to enhance its visibility.