Despite a parliamentary panel recommending revocation of ban on shahtoosh trade, the ‘rigid approach’ of the state and the centre governments has cost livelihood of around 15,000 workers in the Valley who used to eke their earnings out of spinning and weaving shahtoosh.
The parliamentary panel in 2017 recommended lifting of ban on the trade in shahtoosh shawls, woven from the fur of ‘endangered’ Tibetan antelope called chiru, to provide livelihood opportunities to many in conflict-ridden Jammu and Kashmir.
The parliamentary committee headed by Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury had suggested that the environment ministry “should conserve and breed the chiru goats” on vast tracts of land and give the antelopes to weavers for collecting wool.
The rationale is that regulated farming of the animals will not only revive the industry but also the chiru population. The shahtoosh trade was banned globally in 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to which India is a signatory.
The antelope is listed in Schedule I of the India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, granting it the highest level of protection. The Jammu and Kashmir government, which was initially reluctant to impose the ban on the ground, eventually extended the restriction in 2000.
Shahtoosh, which literally means “king of wools” in Persian, is woven from the under-fur of a chiru and is considered one of the finest wools because it is light yet warm.
The weaving of shahtoosh is a skill that is traditionally unique to Kashmiris.
The continuous ban, however, is depriving about 15000 shahtoosh workers who were depended on this trade became jobless in the valley.
About 70 percent of this workforce comprised of women, many of them conflict widows who had no source of income other than weaving Shahtoosh.
Known as King of Wools, Shahtoosh is made from hairs of Chiru and was once the face of Kashmir handicrafts. Tourists used to adore shawls made of this very fine wool and feel pride on wearing them.
At the same time it used to provide livelihood to thousands of families.
Raja Begum, a 70-year old widow, who lost her husband and two sons during turmoil, used to earn her living by spinning Shahtoosh at a private spinning mill. The ban left her with no livelihood.
“I had no source of income other than weaving this fabric, when its trade was banned I was most affected as I have to feed my family. During those days I was so frustrated that I even thought of committing suicide. I used to earn more than hundred rupees per day by spinning Shahtoosh which was sufficient to feed my family and also finance education of my two daughters,” she said adding that later she shifted to spinning Pashmina, but says this is not as profitable as Shahtoosh.
Meanwhile, business community has also demanded revocation of ban, terming that there is misconception about this trade.
Chairman, Kashmir economic alliance, Muhammad Yaseen Khan said that there is misconceptions about Chirus being killed for getting their fur. That is far from truth and is propaganda to deprive livelihood of more than 15000 workforces comprising mainly of female folk. Chairman, PHD chamber of commerce and industry, Mushtaq Ahmad Chaya said they have been urging the government to lift ban on shahtoosh. “There is no rhyme or reason for continuing the ban; despite it being scientifically proven that chirus are not killed for extracting their fur.”