C V Raju, a grassroots innovator from Etikoppaka village, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, is preserving the traditional method of making Etikoppaka toys, a proud heritage rooted in his village, by making vegetative dyes and developing technologies for increasing the shelf life of the dyes. He has developed a variety of contemporary toys for which market was gradually emerging in India and abroad. For his work on Etikoppaka toys that is bringing back the lost glory of local toys, Shri Raju has been praised by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in his 68th Mann Ki Baat. This traditional method of making wooden toys using non-toxic paints and natural dyes, an identity that defined the craft community of the Etikoppaka village in Southern India, was otherwise a dying art. C V Raju explored plant sources and the lead-free dyes in their roots, barks, stems, leaves, fruits, seeds and much more. His experiments resulted in natural dye concentrates over wide-ranging colours, including royal red and Indigo.
Raju started a co-operative association of the artisans called “Padmavati Associates” so that the innovative colours reach right markets. He walked through a strategy of strengthening the local traditions of making vegetative dyes, develop new tools, techniques and methods for increasing the shelf life of the dyes. Over a period of time, the supply of many herbal dyes started increasing, making things easier for the artisans. National Innovation Foundation (NIF) – India, an autonomous body of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, has supported Raju in his efforts to be more vocal about local in various ways like financial support through Micro Venture Innovation Fund (MVIF) to satisfy working capital needs, setting up of a community lab at the premises of innovator which could facilitate in-situ product improvements, research and development; validating the herbal nature of the toys and facilitating commercialization through technology transfer to other enterprises and dissemination and diffusion activities across the country. To strengthen their relevance, the portfolio of innovative products has been made highly rich, and there are a plethora of toy shapes that kids like most viz. teethers, telephone, car, motorbike, cooking set, bowling game, go-go, ducks, whistle bird, Cubby Stack, turtle, Train coach, Train coach, dolls, Tic-tac-toe etc.
In addition to the toys, women accessories like bangles, Ear drops, earrings, hair clips, hairpins; worship items like candle and incense stick stand, bells; household products like small bowls, pots, toothpick holder; stationery items like Pen with stand, pencil caps, sharpener, keychains etc. contribute to the diversity of the overall portfolio. Etikoppaka toys are well rounded and made using natural dye colours. This makes them safe, even for kids. Keeping this in mind, C V Raju remains glued to the conventional art form. Moreover, he engaged his fellow artisans and also provided them with an employment opportunity locally in the same village. Over a period of time, the supply of many herbal dyes started increasing, making things easier for the artisans. C V Raju was conferred with NIF’s 2nd Biennial National Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge Award by former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. In the year 2018, he was invited to be part of the 5th batch of the Innovation Scholar-In-Residence programme organized by Rashtrapati Bhawan. He has also participated in the annual Festival of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (FINE), the biggest platform for grassroots innovators to showcase the merit of their innovations, organized by NIF and DST under the aegis of Rashtrapati Bhawan.