Women artisans: The bread earners of Kashmir’s craft village

Due to the craft skills of the womenfolk, Puthaar has become very famous in the whole area.

MALIK NISAR
Srinagar, Publish Date: Mar 19 2018 11:52PM | Updated Date: Mar 19 2018 11:52PM
Women artisans: The bread earners of Kashmir’s craft villageGK Photo

A far-flung hamlet in Kreeri tehsil of district Baramulla, Puthaar qualifies for calling Kashmir’s craft village. Almost all the women, young and old, in the village are associated with different embroidery forms be it sozni, chain stich or tilla work of shawls, saris, fardhs etc.   

These skilled women of the village toil hard to earn their living. But thanks to government apathy and cunningness of middlemen, the women of Puthaar receive peanuts for their hard work they put in to make beautiful shawls and other embroidery items. Though the work they put in earns a name for Kashmir and hefty sums to the traders, these women and their families are not able to make their ends meet.

“Mostly engaged with farming, people here are not economically sound. That is why women, including educated girls, in this village are using crafts as a tool to help their families to come out from abject poverty,” said Khadija Bano, a woman in her forties engaged with sozni work of shawls from last two decades.

Located amongst hills, in shape of a valley, Puthaar is an underdeveloped village, where people have to walk about 2.5 km to catch a bus. A concrete road is still a dream for the people here. Puthaar got a water-supply connection just few years back.

As the village is situated on a karewa with no irrigation facility, all the farming activity is dependent on the rain. Therefore, the farmers grow maize and have orchards of almond and apple. But due to water scarcity and droughts, the production is usually minimum, forcing men of the village to go for manual labour and women for the embroidery work. 

Due to the craft skills of the womenfolk, Puthaar has become very famous in the whole area.

“Being so well-known and common to the masses, the craft has turned into the (referral) identity of the village. Its effect, as could be observed, is clearly visible in almost every dimension of life here,” says Saira Bano, a students who is doing sozni work on shawls. “Traditionally, the craft passes from mother to daughter and any woman who gets married to someone in the village, is first taught these skills.”

Khadija adds that women from other villages come here to learn these crafts. “After learning the basics they go and start doing it on their own,” she said.

Amrena, a PG student, says she has been engaged in chain stich of crewelwork from last five years.

 “I earn Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 a month. This way, the craft has made me self-sufficient economically to the great extent and helps me to continue my education,” said Amrena, a PG student.

Hafizullah, a village elder, says these girls not only support their families to earn bread and butter but also help themselves to get educated. “They have become bread earners for various economically backward families.”

Women of about seventy families of the village from about 110 are associated with handicrafts.

In a partially lit room, 8-9 girls are working together on their fardhs jointly. They don’t take eyes off their needles while talking, to keep pace with their workmates. Music is the accompaniment to their thoughts and their work.

“It’s not an easy task. It needs lot of concentration. A single mistake can create big problem in the work,” says Asifa, who besides working on fardhs, studies in class 12th.

A piece of cloth in which embroidery work is being done is locally called as the fardh. The fardh is usually made up of cotton or fine wool (pashmina, raffle, dasoot) and varies in size and cost.

The time and labour taken by a piece of embroidery cloth depends upon many factors: the size of fardh, the density of embroidery-work, the design and other factors.

But despite their hard work, these women of the village say that they do not receive any support from the government. There are no self-help groups for these women’ neither the J&K Government’s UMEED scheme has reached Puthaar village to provide assistance to these women.

These women are totally dependent on the middlemen on the finances, raw material and buying the finished products. Being unorganised and informal, there are no chances of fair wages or value for their work. 

“We are not the actual proprietors of the finished product nor do we sell it directly in the market. We are paid for the embroidery work which is the only thing that makes it costly and famous,” says Tahira Akhtar. “These middlemen exploit us by providing fewer wage than we deserve because, we are unaware about the market value of our product as there is no support from the government or anyone else,” she adds.

While these crafts have attained cultural status for Kashmir, the workers, particularly these women, are left to fend for themselves. Though the Directorate of Handicrafts claim to have many schemes for the artisans and there is also a finance scheme in the name of the Artisan Credit Card but so far that has not reached so far to the women of Puthaar.