Famed Kani shawl weavers decry low wages

Fayaz Ahmad, a resident of Kanihama village known for producing unique designs of famous Kani shawls is worried about his future as his income has witnessed decline in past few years.

His eyes  focused on a piece of marvel that he is carving out, yet despite his hard work he is not sure about the price his hard work of the past so many months will fetch him.

“Our wages are going down with each passing day on the contrary it should have been witnessing an increase. But ironically big traders and exporters reap benefits and poor artisans are left to fend for themselves,” Ahmad said.

“Earlier a kani shawl which would give me around Rs 80,000 is fetching only Rs 40 to 50 thousand, when we enquire about it with the exporters or traders who buy it from us, they say there is less demand in the outside and international markets. But on television and other media platforms we come to know how famous our hard work is across the globe.”

“Artisan community has always been subjugated and oppressed by the middlemen, same is happening now,” he said while shifting his focus back to his work.

Over 40- kilometers from Kanihama village, in Srinagar’s downtown a kani shawl weaving workplace run by Hakak brothers is abuzz with the weaving activities.

“We have been weaving kani shawls from decades, but now its returns are much lesser as cheap machine made shawls are being sold in its name outside, though a knowledgeable person can easily recognize the difference between fake and original. Another thing is that the exporters are giving lesser prices, and the poor artisan is not in a position to directly sell it outside, therefore he has to rely upon the prices fixed by the exporter or middlemen who buy stock then sell it to other parties,” said Shabir Ahmad Hakak.

Kashmir’s Kani shawl, one of the Kashmir’s most famous exports from the time of the Mughals, draws its uniqueness from the way it is woven.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has recently brought it under GI tagging.

These shawls are made from the coat of pashmina goats, which are reared in the desert region of Ladakh. A designer, known as naqash, creates a pattern. The weaver brings it into life with numerous bobbins or petit sticks loaded with yarn of different colours. There is no embroidery. Neither does the bobbin shuttle from one side to the other of the warp. Instead, sticks of different colours are inserted at different points across the warp thread. In this, the weaver follows a code prepared by the designer. The task is time-consuming and requires immense patience. This shawl fetches Rs 40000 to 2.5 lakh in the market.