Who cares for Kashmiri Handicraft Artisans?

Talented artisans who make masterpieces are exploited and paid less for their diligent work



Art and crafts is an unspoken description of a society. Jammu and Kashmir exported handicraft items worth more than 500 crores in 2009-10, worth over 705.50 crores in 2008-09, and worth 1200 crores in 2007-08. The quality of our craft and its huge market outside makes this business luctrative. People have earned huge amounts of money through exports to various states in and outside India.
But there’s a flipside. On one hand big guns in the handicrafts business have earned huge money. But that talented artisan, who actually makes these master craft pieces, is nowhere in the picture. He earns Rs 80 a day. He is debt ridden and he can hardly make his both ends meet. Due to this reason many such talented artisans have left their jobs and switched to occupations like driving and salesmanship. There’s a huge difference between what the exporters earn and what the artisans earn.
Sanoor, Kalipora village is situated in the outskirts of Srinagar near Magam. The art known as Crewel is produced in this village. Crewel is a kind of embroidery made with a pointed hook which is used for drapery and upholstery. Beautiful effects are made with the hook. Crewel usually carries flowing floral and creeper designs. The various materials used includes Hand-woven Cotton Dosooti Fabric, Cotton Duck, Linen, Jute etc. Crewel embroidery material is quite popular in export market as it produces the aesthetic expression that lovers of beauty all over the world adore.
Most of the people who live in this village are artisans and produce crewel. “We've been doing this work since our childhood. My father and all my uncles still do the same work," says Farooq Ahmad Mir, a local artisan. This art has witnessed a major transition over the last couple of decades. Less earning potential, advent of modern technologies and high living standards has led to a decline in this art. Many artisans have left this job and switched to other jobs. "I used to work hard and produce excellent crewel pieces but I earned a very meager amount out of it,” says Rouf Ahmad Mir, a young local artisan. “I changed my job and now I work with a Road Construction Contractor,” he says.
There's a huge difference in the profit that these local artisans earn and what the exporters and suppliers-to-exporters earn.  The artisan who actually makes these masterpieces is unaware of this huge gap. "We are given an amount of Rs 400-600 for the work that takes 7 to 10 days to complete," says Jehangir Ahmad, a young artisan. This piece is, in turn, is sold for more than Rs 1500 by the contractor.
"The biggest reason behind this huge gap is that the local artisan doesn't know his worth; he doesn't know the value of his art and hence he lags behind," says Altaf Raja, who heads a local private school. Raja says the artisans should form a strong union and stop working until they're given good wages. Although an Artisans' Union, known as Anjuman-i-Dastakaar, is in place but it has failed to protect the interests of local artisans.
"We had gone for a strike last year but that strike remained only for a day and the next day we saw our artisans working," says Ishfaaq, a local artisan. Lack of coordination and resources has resulted in failure of this union. The poor artisans say they can't afford to go for long strikes. They don't have much savings to come to their rescue during the strike period. They earn and spend. They can't bear the brunt of not earning for weeks together. "The day we don't work, we don't earn.  If we do not earn every day, we can't live," says Ali Baba, another local artisan in the village.
Also, majority of the artisans borrow money from their first level contractor (wasta) whenever they face a contingency. For example, they have to borrow money from wasta needed for a marriage at home and for the treatment of their family members. In this painful affair they become obliged and liable to them. Consequently, they can't raise their voice against them. "Ours is a painful story. We're debt-ridden. We borrow money from wasta whenever we need it,” says Farooq Ahmad, another local artisan. “Would you expect us to lock horns with the same person who extended monetary help to us when we needed it the most?" he asks.
Various Dastakar Loan schemes launched by the banks too do not provide these facilities to the deserving artisans. The cumbersome documentation and the requirement of heavy collateral is a problem. The loan goes to the wrong person. "Banks give loans to the rich people, not us,” quips Ghulam Hassan Bhat, an experienced local artisan. Many people who approached the banks to avail of schemes instead bought vehicles from that money. The basic objective for which the Priority Sector Lending was made compulsory for Banks is nowhere implemented on ground.
The advent of machine-made pieces of crewel has further worsened the condition of local artisans. The pieces look like hand-made crewel and are less expensive. "You need to be an expert to make a difference between hand-made and machine-made Crewel. It's just like identifying punctuation errors in a beautifully written piece that only a qualified expert can do," says a contractor Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Khan. "The government introduced some RFIT system and employed Emporium personnel to check machine-made Crewel sale, but corruption has made them useless", adds Khan.
In a move to take stern measures to stop the sale of fake Kashmiri shawls, the Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to use radio Frequency Identification Tag (RFIT) to protect the state's handicraft.  “World famous Kashmiri shawls will be tagged through RFIT which will be a great step forward to protect Kashmiri handicrafts across the globe. This will stop sale of fake Kashmiri shawls and other handicraft items,” says a senior official of Handicrafts Department. Geographical Indication (GI) status has been given to Kashmiri Handicrafts and RFIT technology has been introduced to check the originality of the crafts. But both of these measures so far have not come to the rescue of the poor artisans. What is needed on ground is a strong and hassle-free credit-system, strict government regulation over the wages, and a fool-proof checking system to check counterfeit crewel.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 17 Jul 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 17 Jul 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 18 Jul 2013 00:00:00 IST

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